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Princess Diana: A life in style

She could sell clothes just by looking at them, an auction of 79 of her dresses raised $6million for AIDS and breast cancer charities. Here's how Diana evolved from an animal-loving school girl into a fashion darling. 


Diana Frances Spencer was born on 1 July 1961, the year Elvis Presley ruled the airwaves, the farthing fell out of mainstream currency, and a little-known band called The Beatles had started doing the circuits.

The future princess was the fourth of the five children in the powerful Spencer family who had been closely allied with the Royal family for generations. In fact, both of Diana’s grandmothers had worked as ladies in waiting to the Queen Mother.

Diana looked back on her first five years with fondness. The family lived in a lavish house on the grounds of the private Sandringham estate where the children would often play with the royal children, swimming at Park House or having tea parties.

When she was just six, Diana’s life changed irrevocably when her parents divorced. Her father received custody of the children and, when he inherited the title of Earl in 1975, Diana became a Lady.

The above photo shows a one-year-old Diana dressed in an adorable white sundress in the summer of 1962. 




Diana was sent to her first boarding school aged nine but was never academically gifted. She failed her O-Levels twice but was gifted in other ways, excelling in music, diving, ballet, swimming and tapdance.

Having left education aged 16, Diana moved to London where she shared her mother’s flat with two friends. There she enrolled onto a cooking course and went on to hold a variety of jobs, including cleaning, teaching dance and working as a nanny.

In November 1977 she drove to visit her father, who was hosting a party to celebrate the hunting season. There were to be some royal guests, one being Prince Charles who was courting her elder sister, Sarah at the time.

Dressed in a thick jumper and wellington boots, she quite literally fell at the Prince's feet. He was fascinated by her unaffected charm. A year later she was invited, along with her sister, to the prince’s 30th birthday celebrations.

Sarah’s own relationship with the prince had by this time deteriorated as she’d had bragged about the romance to reporters, and confidently told them that she did not love Charles and would never marry him, whether he was “a dustman or the King of England.”

When Diana wore Hunter wellington boots again on the Balmoral estate in 1980, sales skyrocketed, only to be topped by Kate Moss who donned them at Glastonbury 2005



Dating Charles

In February 1980, Diana finally attended a royal event without the accompaniment of her sisters. It was a barbecue, and she would sit next to Charles.

The couple’s courtship was brief, and they became engaged after just five months of dating. Diana was only 19 when they became betrothed, while Charles was 13 years her senior at 33.

When a reporter asked the pair if they were in love, Diana hurriedly replied “of course”, to which Charles infamously added, “whatever ‘in love’ means.”

The British press was already enamoured with the young Diana, and clothes worn by the soon-to-be-Princess would frequently sell out within days of her being photographed in them. 



The wedding of the century 

When the time came to select the designer for her iconic wedding dress, Diana knew exactly who to choose. The Emanuels (married couple David and Elizabeth) had designed for her before, including the striking black ball gown she had worn to her first formal event following the engagement. 

The creation of the £9000 dress was shrouded with such intense secrecy, that David would tear up each sketch as soon as he had shown his wife. The couple saw their job as designing "something that was going to go down in history, but also something that Diana loved." As the couple toiled over the main wedding dress, they also created a second gown, to be worn in case of a first dress emergency. 

The final gown featured a 25ft train—the longest in royal history—and was so heavy that Diana had to practice walking in it before the big day. The design embodied the tradition of wearing something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue as it was created with antique lace, new silk, a tiara borrowed from the Spencer family collection and a small blue bow sewn into the waistband. 

By the time of her nuptials, Diana was struggling with an eating disorder, and she shrank from a size 14 to a size 10, making the fittings particularly challenging. 

With frills, bows, and intricate detailing, the dress spoke to every fantasy of what a princess was 'supposed' to look like. A real fairytale wedding dress. 

Upon Diana's death, the dress was inherited by Princes William and Harry who have lent it for many years to the touring exhibition, 'Diana: A Celebration'. 


Diana becomes a fashion darling

This navy blue dress, designed by Victor Edelstein, is one of Diana's most iconic looks. By this time the Princess had been noted by major fashion publications, including Vogue, as a star on the rise. She began to push boundaries and take risks with her wardrobe and this dress, worn on a state visit to the US to meet Ronald and Nancy Reagan, was no exception. 

During the visit, Diana had told Nancy Reagan about her crush on John Travolta, and the first lady made sure the pair would dance together by inviting the actor, alone, to the White House dinner that night.

Nancy insisted that he ask the Princess to dance, and the pair waltzed together for over half an hour. 

This dress was a turning point for Diana. From here on, she researched her looks meticulously and as she became more influenced by the catwalks, the catwalks became more influenced by her. 



Diana was a distinctly hands-on mother in a way that was unprecedented for the royal family.

In fact, she broke with tradition from the moment her sons were born, insisting on naming them herself, dismissing the royal family nanny, selecting their clothing, their schools, and even doing the school run as often as her schedule allowed. 

However, motherhood was not an easy start for Diana. During the now infamous 1995 Panorama interview with Martin Bashir, she revealed her struggle with post-natal depression, and how it was something no one ever really talked about and thus it was difficult to find support among the royals.

The photographs of Diana with her sons show her at her most relaxed. Often dressed down in jeans and jumpers, they placed her even more in the role as the relatable 'People's Princess'.



After Charles

Diana almost didn't wear this infamous dress, concerned that its clinging shape might be inappropriate. Designer Christina Stambolian remembers how "she thought it was too daring." 

All that seems to have changed when Diana stepped out in Stambolian's design for an event at the Serpentine Gallery on the same evening that a documentary aired across the country in which Prince Charles admitted to his adultery with Camilla Parker Bowles. 

Speaking about the affair in her notoriously revealing Panorama interview with Martin Bashir, the Princess explained how "there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded." 

As she drifted further away from the royal family, Diana began to truly explore fashion. Members of the British monarchy are required to only wear clothing from British designers to help boost the economy, and free from this restriction Diana dazzled in clothes from the major fashion houses from across the world. 



Later life

On 31 August 1997, Diana died in a car crash after being chased by paparazzi. Her partner, Dodi Fayed, was also killed in the crash. 

The country plunged into mourning, with over 32 million people from the UK watching her funeral, and millions more tuning in from across the world. For months after her death, flowers and tributes were laid outside her home in Kensington Palace. 

Speaking at her funeral, her brother Lord Spencer said, "She proved in the last year that she needed no royal title to continue to generate her particular brand of magic."

In 2013, an auction of ten of Diana's dresses, including the blue Victor Edelstein design she wore to dance at the White House, raised over £800,000 for charity. 


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