Today Kensington Palace celebrates the life of Princess Diana with a curated fashion exhibition. Diana: Her Fashion Story takes us through the Princess' style evolution and displays some of her most famous outfits such as: her light pink Emanuel blouse she wore at her engagement portrait in 1981, her iconic Victor Edelstein ink-blue velvet dress she wore while dancing with John Travolta at the White House in 1985, and her Catherine Walker power suits of the '90s.
Like most prominent figures in the public eye, Princess Diana used fashion to communicate and express herself, and as she grew into her own, she was quite keen on social expectations and balancing them with her own personal style. But considering Princess Di lived through the decadent '80s, she would undoubtedly fall victim to fashion mishaps. As a young woman, we first see her drowning in frills and ruffles and later, sporting unusually large shoulder pads and oversized tartan suits. But soon, her image would evolve into more form-fitting, sleek apparel that symbolized her growth and confidence.
“Somehow women all over the world saw a piece of themselves in the princess,” Deirdre Murphy, senior curator at the Historic Royal Palaces said. “She got her image across and her ideas across using clothing in a really sophisticated, really smart, really thoughtful way.”
For instance, Princess Diana knew how to use fashion as a diplomatic tool. On an overseas trip to Saudi Arabia, she wore a dress covered with golden falcons, which were emblems of the country. She also used fashion for philanthropy. Referring to her carefully selected outfits for humanitarian events as her "caring wardrobe," the Princess would wear bright colors to exude warmth and approachability. She wore chunky accessories so that children could play with them, and she also made a point of not wearing gloves so that she could easily hold people's hands. When she visited the blind, she made sure to wear tactile material, often times velvet, and she famously wore a red suit when visiting an AIDS charity in 1996.
But truth be told, as much as Princess Diana was conscious of her public image, she was not vain about her appearance. Hairstylist Sam McKnight recalled she admitted as much. "It’s not for me, Sam. It is for the people I visit or who come to see me," she told him. "They don’t want me in off-duty mode, they want a princess. Let’s give them what they want."
Twenty years after Princess Diana's death, it appears that she did — and still, the public remains fascinated.