Splitting with Prince Charles was the best thing that could have happened to Princess Diana — at least for her wardrobe.
“That’s when she became a style icon,” says Matthew Storey, one of the curators of the exhibit “Diana: Her Fashion Story,” currently on view at London’s Kensington Palace.
Twenty years after Di’s death, it’s not the over-the-top, 1981 puff-sleeve wedding dress, but the sleek sheaths, slinky silhouettes and laid-back workwear she donned in her post-princess years that helped cast her as the icon she is today.
“The dresses worked, the hair worked, the styling worked,” says Storey. “It all came together so beautifully that instead of seeing the outfit, you saw her. She went beyond fashion.”
Of course, Diana Spencer had already come quite a long way from the frilly pie-crust collars and woolly jumpers of her schoolteacher days by the time she separated from Charles in 1992.
Even by the late ’80s, Storey says, “you could see her experimenting and settling into something more confident, elegant and timeless,” such as her “Elvis dress,” a white beaded column with a matching high-collared jacket by Catherine Walker that she wore in 1989.
Yet nothing prepared the public — nor the royal family — for the “revenge” dress: the tight, ruched and scandalously short frock Diana stepped out in shortly after Charles publicly admitted his infidelities in 1994.
Instead, Diana continued to parade around in even more provocative ensembles [that were] ‘not at all royal.’
“It was sleeveless, low-cut, above the knee, sexy,” says UK fashion editor Lynnette Peck, who covered Diana in the ’90s and now owns online shop Lovely’s Vintage Emporium. “Even Kate Middleton doesn’t dress like that today!”
“Some of the papers were supportive of her, but some of the tabloids suggested that she was behaving very naughty for an ex-princess,” Peck adds of Diana’s post-split look. “People wanted her to go away…