Fashion

Princess Diana’s iconic John Travolta dress to be unveiled at new fashion exhibit

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Kayleigh Dray
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Princess Diana wasn’t just a beloved member of the Royal Family; she was also something of a fashion icon, walking red carpets and gracing the covers of magazines until her untimely death on 31 August 1997.

Now, at last, some of her most famous outfits will be returning to her former home at Kensington Palace in February to begin a year of commemorations of the 20th anniversary of her death.



Diana: My Fashion Story will feature 26 of her outfits, charting the evolution of her style over the years.

“The exhibition will bring together an extraordinary collection of garments, ranging from the glamorous evening gowns worn on engagements in the Eighties, to the chic Catherine Walker suits that made up Diana's working wardrobe in the Nineties,” the palace said.

“The princess' relationship with her favourite designers will also be explored through a display of some of their original fashion sketches, created for her during the design process.”

Princess Diana dancing with John Travolta in 1985

Princess Diana dancing with John Travolta in 1985

Curator Eleri Lynn added: “The exhibition explores the story of a young woman who had to quickly learn the rules of royal and diplomatic dressing, who in the process put the spotlight on the British fashion industry and designers.

“We see her growing in confidence throughout her life, increasingly taking control of how she was represented, and intelligently communicating through her clothes.”



The Victor Edelstein dress, which she wore to dance with John Travolta at the White House in 1985, is amongst those going on display.

The pale pink Emanuel blouse worn by Diana for her official engagement portrait by Lord Snowdon in 1981 will also be available to see close up, alongside several Catherine Walker suits that made up her “working wardrobe” in the 1990s.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles' engagement photo in 1981

Princess Diana and Prince Charles' engagement photo in 1981

The palace gardens, meanwhile, will be transformed in homage of the late princess.

The temporary White Garden will feature “flowers and foliage inspired by memories of the Princess’s life, image and style”, including tulips, narcisii, forget-me-nots, English white roses, ornamental grasses, Cosmos daisies and “billows of graceful Gaura”.

Diana: My Fashion Story opens 24 February 2017.

  • Princess Diana, 1963

    Princess Diana was born in 1961 in Sandringham, Norfolk. She was the third child of Viscount and Viscountess Althorp.

    Diana's father, was a royal equerry for King George VI and the family grew up close to the royal Sandringham estate. It is rumored that one of Diana's childhood friends was a young Prince Andrew.

  • Princess Diana, 1965

    Diana's childhood was spent in the company of her two elder sisters, Sarah and Jane, growing up in Sandringham. She was often described as a calm and reserved child.

    Her composure would prove invaluable to her siblings after Diana's parents filed for separation in 1967. She continued to live at Park House in Sandringham, with her siblings and father, until 1975.

  • Princess Diana, 1969

    Following an acrimonious custody battle, Diana's parents finalised divorce proceedings in 1969. Her mother remarried Peter Shand-Kydd soon after and moved away from the family to the remote Scottish island of Seil.

    Diana later revealed that the experience left her with bitter memories of the period.

  • Princess Diana, 1970

    Whilst at school, Diana's academic record was unexceptional although she demonstrated a particular talent in music and sports.

    In 1974, she was sent to board at the exclusive West Heath School. Her contemporaries included a young Tilda Swinton.

  • Princess Diana, 1971

    Here, pictured at the age of ten, Diana shows off a more fashionable side. Her sartorial choices and personal style would be one of the things that came to define her later in life, often championing the best of British designers.

  • Princess Diana, 1974

    With her father's equestrian background, it is no surprise that Diana was rather fond of horses. Here pictured at age 14, she is being kissed by her pet pony Scuffle.

  • Princess Diana, 1980

    Diana's work with children predated her public duties as a royal. After a brief stint at a Swiss finishing school, Diana returned to London and began work as a kindergarten teacher at the Young England School in Pimlico.

    In this now iconic image of the princess (note: semi-see through skirt), photographers captured the young Diana Spencer on the cusp of her engagement.

  • Princess Diana, 1980

    On a rare occasion, Diana is pictured here with Camilla Shand (later Camilla Parker-Bowles) at Ludlow races in 1980.

    Camilla had been romantically linked with Prince Charles throughout the 1970s, despite her marriage to Andrew Parker-Bowles in 1973. The year marked a period of change for the future king, with his sights now set upon the young Lady Diana Spencer.

  • Princess Diana, 1981

    After a year of courting, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer announced their engagement at Buckingham Palace on 24th February 1981.

    The Prince told the press that he was "delighted and frankly amazed that Diana is prepared to take [him] on". The ring, an oval sapphire and diamond ring, was made by royal jewellers Garrard and cost a reported £28,000.

  • Princess Diana, 1981

    In their first public outing following the engagement, the young couple were entertained at a Royal Opera House benefit, held at London's Goldsmith Hall. She wore a black gown by Elizabeth and David Emanuel.

    It was definitive moment in Diana's life, which underscored the public's appetite for all things 'Charles and Diana'.

  • Princess Diana, 1981

    Destined for a life in the public eye, Diana carried out her public engagements with an unrivaled sense of style.

    Here she arrives at the premiere of Bond film For Your Eyes Only, starring Sir Roger Moore, in Leicester Sqaure, wearing a dazzling red polka-dot dress.

  • Princess Diana, 1981

    In an official portrait, Prince Charles and Diana met the Queen at Buckingham palace, shortly after the engagement announcement.

  • Princess Diana, 1981

    A beaming bride-to-be, Diana leaves the Mayfair studio of Elizabeth and David Emanuel, after her last wedding dress fitting.

    As Diana's popularity increased, so did the paparazzi's pursuit of her. Being hounded by the press would soon form a permanent part of her public life.

  • Princess Diana, 1981

    Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles on the 29th of July 1981, at the age of 20.

    Described in the press as 'the modern fairytale wedding', Diana arrived by a glass coach to St Paul's Cathedral with her father. The wedding was watched by over 750 million people around the world.

  • Princess Diana, 1981

    The wedding dress, designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, boasted of a 25ft train and was constructed of taffeta and lace. It became the epitome of 80s bridal couture, with its exaggerated sleeves and skirt. All beading and sequins were hand-sewn and Diana wore a Spencer family tiara over her veil.

    Although the permanent home of the dress is on the Althorp estate in Northamptonshire, it is currently part of an exhibition touring the world.

  • Princess Diana, 1981

    The newly-wed couple emerge onto the balcony of Buckingham Palace for the all important 'balcony kiss'.

  • Princess Diana, 1981

    The Prince and Princess of Wales on the banks of the River Dee, during their honeymoon in Balmoral, Scotland.

    Eschewing a more exotic destination, the couple followed in the steps of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh who also honeymooned at the royal residence in 1947.

  • Princess Diana, 1982

    On the steps of St. Mary's hospital in June 1982, the young couple introduce their first child, Prince William, to the public.

    Diana was in labour for over 16 hours and Prince William was the first heir to the British throne born in a hospital.

  • Princess Diana, 1982

    Diana's friendship with Sarah 'Fergie' Ferguson flourished during the early eighties, having been introduced at a polo match (pictured here at Guards Polo club).

    A valuable confidant in Charles' absence, Diana repaid the favour by setting Fergie up with a newly-single Prince Andrew.

  • Princess Diana, 1983

    As the mother of the future king, Diana found every aspect of her family's life religiously documented in the press. This included William's first steps, which were taken in public and televised globally.

  • Princess Diana, 1983

    Despite her increased royal duties, Diana was keen to maintain her personal friendships. Here she is pictured leaving the wedding of Anne Bolton, a former roommate and personal friend, in 1983.

  • Princess Diana, 1983

    Diana's popularity soon became a global phenomenon. Seen here visiting a school while on a tour of Australia in 1983, the royal couple could expect crowds of thousands, eager to meet the Princess.

  • Princess Diana, 1984

    Diana gave birth to her second son, Harry, on 15th September 1984.

    Delivered in the same room as his brother two years earlier, Harry's birth came at a particularly difficult moment in Diana's life, surrounded by rumours in the press of the breakdown of her marriage.

  • Princess Diana, 1984

    Eager to quash these reports, the royal couple stand for a photo call with the press, during a ski-ing holiday in Liechenstein. The gesture was taken as a sign that all was well in the marriage.

  • Princess Diana, 1985

    Diana's public face remained composed. She is pictured here dancing with John Travolta at a White House dinner, watched by Nancy and Ronald Reagan.

    Her love for dancing also prompted another public performance later that year, with ballet dancer Wayne Sleep at the Royal Opera House, as a surprise for Prince Charles.

  • Princess Diana, 1985

    Always the trendsetter, Diana's choice of fashion was at times questionable. Dancing with Prince Charles at a charity gala in Melbourne, she caused a stir by wearing a diamond and emerald choker as a headband.

    The piece, once belonging to Queen Mary, was a wedding gift from the Queen.

  • Princess Diana, 1986

    A consistent champion of British-based designers, Diana sports a Paul Costelloe dress while on a state visit to Muscat, Oman.

  • Princess Diana, 1987

    Princess Diana presents Prince Charles with a trophy at Guards Polo Club. By this point in their marriage, both were reported to be having extra-marital affairs.

  • Princess Diana, 1987

    As the media's scrutiny relaxed, Princess Diana enjoyed a much-needed family break in Majorca in 1987.

    Pictured here with William and Harry as toddlers, she embraced her responsibilities as a doting mother.

  • Princess Diana, 1987

    In another iconic dress, Diana visits Cannes Film Festival in a powder blue Catherine Walker gown.

    Diana asked Walker to make a gown, loosely based on the dress worn by Grace Kelly in the Hitchcock film To Catch a Thief in 1955. It was recently auctioned for £81,000.

  • Princess Diana, 1987

    The royal couple pose with Prince Harry and Prince William, on Harry's first day at his Montessori nursery.

  • Princess Diana, 1988

    Diana strove to keep her sporting skills sharp throughout her adult life. She regularly practiced tennis at the exclusive Harbour Club in Chelsea and often played with her sons.

    Here she is pictured with German tennis champion Steffi Graf at the Vanderbilt Racquet Club.

  • Princess Diana, 1989

    Princess Diana, pictured here presenting Major James Hewitt with a polo trophy in 1989.

    Both Hewitt and Diana later revealed that they had a five-year affair.

  • Princess Diana, 1989

    Now a seasoned expert on how to command the red-carpet, Diana arrives at the premiere of When Harry Met Sally in London, in a gown designed by Bruce Oldfield.

  • Princess Diana, 1989

    Nicknamed 'The Elvis Dress', Diana wore another Catherine Walker ensemble during a tour of Hong Kong in 1989.

    The two-piece outfit, featuring a strapless gown and matching bolero jacket, was studded with hundreds of oyster pearls and sequins. It sold for over £250,000 at auction in 1997.

  • Princess Diana, 1990

    As a committed mother, Princess Diana relished her daily duties. Here she is seen accompanying the young Princes to school in 1990.

  • Princess Diana, 1990

    Sporting another Catherine Walker creation, Diana wore this memorable turquoise sequin dress during a state visit to Vienna. The outfit fetched a staggering £83,000 in auction in June 2011.

    Catherine Walker, who sadly passed away in September 2010, was widely known to be Diana's preferred couturier during the 90s.

  • Princess Diana, 1991

    Diana remained a devoted mother throughout her sons' childhoods. Here she is seen with the boys on a chair lift, during a skiing holiday to Lech, Austria, in 1991.

  • Princess Diana, 1991

    The Princess soon learnt to strike the perfect balance between the private and public personas.

    Unafraid to defy convention, she is photographed here racing with other mothers at Prince Harry's school sports day.

  • Princess Diana, 1991

    In the 1990s Diana became renowned for her charity and humanitarian work.

    In 1991, the Princess visited Brazil and is pictured here in Sao Paolo at a shelter for abandoned children with AIDS.

  • Princess Diana, 1992

    Immersing herself in her humanitarian work the following year, Diana traveled to India in 1992. In this now famous portrait, the Princess sits alone in front of the Taj Mahal in Delhi.

    In December that year, the Prime Minister John Major announced the separation of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in the House of Commons.

  • Princess Diana, 1992

    Diana maintained a high profile in the media throughout the year. Here she meets Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman at the premiere of Far and Away at Leicester Square.

  • Princess Diana, 1993

    A watershed in the Princess' adult life, Diana emerges from the Hilton Hotel, London after a press conference resigning from her public duties.

  • Princess Diana, 1993

    Diana photographed with Elton John backstage at a concert in London in 1993. The pair were close friends up until her death and shared a passion for increasing awareness about AIDS globally.

  • Princess Diana, 1993

    Keen to ensure that her sons did not suffer from the separation, Diana continued to devote her time and energy to Harry and William. In a playful mood, the Princess is seen here on a water flume with Prince Harry, at Thorpe Park.

  • Princess Diana, 1994

    Diana's social engagements increased the public's fascination with the Princess. Here pictured at the Serpentine Summer party in 1994, in a Christina Stambolian off-the-shoulder dress, Diana skillfully reinvented her public image.

  • Princess Diana, 1995

    Unerring in her support of humanitarian causes, Diana is pictured being guided to a charity concert for Bosnian children by opera singer Luciano Pavarotti.

  • Princess Diana, 1995

    Another cause that Diana committed herself to was homelessness, seen here giving a speech at the Savoy Theatre, during a Centrepoint conference for the homeless.

    Prince William, also a patron of Centrepoint, continued his mother's work by sleeping rough for a night in 2009, to highlight the charity's work.

  • Princess Diana, 1995

    Though officially separated, Prince Charles and Princess Diana presented a strong and united front for Prince William on his first day at Eton College.

    Diana is seen here with Harry and William as he signs in.

  • Princess Diana, 1995

    In a candid interview with Martin Bashir in 1995, for the BBC's Panorama programme, Diana opened up about her marriage, royal duties and the future. The programme sparked media furore over the Princess' private life.

  • Princess Diana, 1996

    Looking calm and resolute, the Princess visits the English National Ballet on the day her divorce from Prince Charles is finalised.

  • Princess Diana, 1996

    Diana smiles while holding the daughter of an HIV patient in 1996, at the London Lighthouse, a centre for people affected by HIV and AIDS.

    The Princess' warmth and passionate approach to her work formed a stark contrast to her vilification in the press at the time.

  • Princess Diana, 1996

    In another Catherine Walker creation, Diana attends a charity dinner in 1996 accompanied by Mohammed Al Fayed, owner of Harrods.

  • Princess Diana, 1997

    In 1997, Diana controversially visited Angola to highlight her call for an international ban on land mines. Through visiting amputees and walking through a minefield, the Princess used her profile to create a platform for wider debate on the subject.

  • Princess Diana, 1997

    As a strong advocate for cultural diversity, the Princess also visited the newly opened Swaminarayan Hindu temple in Neasden, London, the same year.

  • Princess Diana, 1997

    Diana was reintroduced to Mother Teresa in 1997, when visiting missionaries in New York. The image of the two women walking hand-in-hand through the Bronx became deeply symbolic of Diana's firm commitment to humanitarian work.

  • Princess Diana, 1997

    During a trip to Lahore, Pakistan, Diana was reunited with her old friend Jemima Khan. Wearing a traditional salwar kameez, the Princess visited hospitals in the city, including a cancer hospital founded by Jemima's husband Imran.

  • Princess Diana, 1997

    Tributes outside Kensington Palace after her tragic death in August 1997.

  • Princess Diana, 1997

    The young princes follow the funeral procession with their uncle Earl Spencer. This iconic picture brought home the grief her family were suffering after her death.

  • Princess Diana, 1997

    Taken five months before her death by Mario Testino.

    Words by Dipal Acharya

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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