Princess Diana’s Iconic Revenge Dress: Explained

Princess Diana’s Iconic Revenge Dress: Explained

November 28, 2022
By Erin Clark

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Princess Diana herself was once a stunning member of the royal family, loyal wife to Prince Charles, and fashion icon. However, one such look that she’s often remembered for has been dubbed “the revenge dress” and marks a time in Princess Diana’s memorable lifetime when she was separated from both the royal family and her estranged husband, yet no less of a fashion icon.

On the very evening that the world discovered that Princess Diana’s ex-husband Prince Charles had been unfaithful to her on national television, she donned a stunning, form-fitting, and decidedly un-royal black cocktail dress to a Vanity Fair gala.

Read below to find out the history and story behind this timeless statement dress.

Who Was Princess Diana?

Princess Diana was actually Diana Princess of Wales and was married to the Prince of Wales at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London in 1981. In February of 1981, it was announced that Lady Diana would be married to the Prince of Wales. The two families of the bride and groom had been neighbors at Sandringham so the pair had known each other for many years.

The Princess was the first Englishwoman to marry an heir to the throne for 300 years. It wasn’t until December of 1992 that the separation of Princess Diana and Prince Charles was announced. They were officially divorced in 1996.

She was beloved by the public as the “people’s princess” long after her divorce from Prince Charles. She continued to be regarded as a member of the royal family long after her divorce and died in 1997 after a car crash in Paris.

Princess Diana was known for her grace, beauty, fashion, and personality. She could be a bit spunky at times, and the revenge dress was certainly one of these cases.

What Is the Revenge Dress?

What’s been called a dress not-so-fit for a princess was a short black cocktail dress. It was certainly a show-stopping piece, including an off-the-shoulder neckline and a mix of silk and chiffon fabric.

Princess Diana was renowned for her role in the public and extensive charity work, but was also closely associated with the fashion world and widely recognized for her style. She served as a trendsetter for the young British public for years.

This dress embodied elegance and Princess Diana was glowing in it. It was highly complimented, even if the not-so-modest number did break royal protocol.

What Really Happened That Night?

Although Princess Diana looked incredible the night of the Vanity Fair Gala she was attending, that wasn’t the reason this little black dress became so infamous.

Although Princess Diana looked incredible the night of the Vanity Fair Gala she was attending, that wasn’t the reason this little black dress became so infamous.

Instead, it was the breaking news about her ex-husband that aired at nearly the exact moment that she arrived at the Vanity Fair party, the Annual Fundraising Gala for the Serpentine Gallery in London.

ITV debuted a two-and-a-half-hour-long television documentary on Charles, to paint a more positive picture of him as heir to the British Throne, which, as we know, backfired.

The Infidelity

Two things happened that night. Princess Diana made possibly her most popular public appearance at the Vanity Fair Party (behind, of course, her wedding night to Prince Charles where she donned an ivory taffeta wedding dress complete with 10,000 pearls and a 25foot long train). And, Prince Charles released his tell-all documentary that premiered on national television.

This program was meant to paint Prince Charles in a more sympathetic light after his separation from Diana in 1991. However, the film’s intent actually backfired on the Prince quite badly.

This is because of the reveal of his infidelity to Princess Diana. The interviewer had asked Prince Charles if he’d been faithful and honorable to Diana during their marriage. “Yes.” He began. But that wasn’t the whole answer.

He continued, “Yes. Until it became irretrievably broken down, both of us having tried.”

This subtle confession was all it took to land Prince Charles back in the public hot seat. This was certainly not the intent of this film. Especially unintended was the outbreak of press the following day regarding the infidelity, the television program, and especially: The Revenge Dress.

The Other Woman

Known today as Camilla Parker Bowles, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall was also married when she decided to engage in an intimate relationship with Prince Charles…while he and Princess Diana were still married.

After this scandal was revealed by none other than Prince Charles himself on the same night in June of 1994 that Princess Diana stepped out in her so-called “revenge dress”, the press went wild.

The Sun even released a piece the next morning entitled “The Thrilla He Left to Woo Camilla” in regards to Diana’s bold fashion choice and Charles’ even bolder public statement.

The Revenge

While many would have spent the night in with a glass of wine and The Notebook, Princess Diana chose to do just the opposite. As the film’s intent backfired, Princess Diana chose to stand proud, and publicly, in a stunning yet shocking dress.

The dress was so controversial because it represented her newfound freedom and bold spirit since leaving an unfaithful marriage. It was one of those dresses that meant more than some fabric and a zipper, it represented her as a strong and independent woman.

While some would have thought that facing that evening was too much, Princess Diana stepped out onto the town looking drop-dead gorgeous in her curve-hugging revenge dress and made a huge statement.

The Dress Itself

Despite the power and history that this dress now holds, it was not always the case. Princess Diana actually bought the dress three years prior while out on a shopping trip with her brother.

She was actually planning on wearing a Valentino dress to this very event but was forced to change her mind when her fashion house leaked her planned ensemble to the press.

Thus, Princess Diana was forced to sift through her closet and found one LBD in her wardrobe that she’d bought years earlier. Sometimes, the perfect little black dress really can save the day.

The dress had a deep V, off-the-shoulder neckline. Its hemline was asymmetrical, with a sheer chiffon scarf wafting from the waist. She exuded confidence and freedom in this dress, tastefully pairing it with sheer black tights to complete the look.

The Designer

The designer of the dress was a Greek woman named Christina Stambolian who had made the dress three years prior to Diana wearing it. She told the press in an interview that at the time of purchase, the Princess thought the dress was too daring and a bit revealing, and had been too nervous to wear it.

As we know, she made a last-minute switch and decided the dress was the perfect statement for that night. Princess Diana’s former stylist even said that Diana had claimed that she wanted to look like “a million dollars” that night and she certainly did.

The Choker

What was almost as equally bold as the revenge dress was the ornate pearl choker that Princess Diana paired with her look.

The sapphire and pearl choker was a statement piece in and of itself. Given the history of the jewel, this piece only added to the incredible scandal that Princess Diana elegantly addressed through her fashion choices.

The Queen Mother had given Princess Diana a large sapphire and diamond brooch as a wedding present. Although the Princess wore this brooch many times, she ended up mounting it on seven strands of pearls to create a wide choker.

Princess Diana was seen wearing this very necklace publicly both before and after her divorce. Including when she famously danced with John Travolta at the white house in 1985 and again at the Met Gala in 1996.

The jewels have not been seen since her death, but it has been thought that they were most likely left to her sons in her will. Diana had two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, and it is thought that the diamonds from the necklace may have even been used in Meghan Markle’s engagement ring.

Where Is the Revenge Dress Now?

As iconic as a dress as this was, many wonder what came of it after Diana’s original debut at the fated Vanity Fair party on that one June night.

Well, in classic Princess Diana fashion, she put it up for auction to benefit two charities that she had championed throughout her time in the public eye.

In 1997 Princess Diana put 79 dresses up for auction to benefit the Royal Marsden Hospital Cancer Fund as well as the AIDS Crisis Trust. Many dresses sold for high prices that night, including the “Revenge Dress” which sold for a whopping $65,000.

What Can We Learn From Diana’s Iconic Revenge Moment?

Princess Diana was a highly respected and followed member of the public, and she chose to make a statement that night

Short answer: so much. Princess Diana was a highly respected and followed member of the public, and she chose to make a statement that night. Throughout her time in and (technically) out of the Royal Family, she carried herself with grace and pride. So, here are our top takeaways from Princess Diana’s revenge dress.

Fashion Has Power

As we can see from Princess Diana’s bold move at the Vanity Fair party, fashion is yet another canvas upon which powerful and important messages can be written. Some may have seen a beautiful young Princess in a black dress that night, but it was in fact so much more.

Think back to moments in history where fashion has made an impact, some of them have had huge implications for society at large. Whether it was Coco Chanel’s introduction of the Little Black Dress on the 1926 cover of Vogue or Lady Gaga’s meat dress at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, these looks had a message behind them.

In addition, the people wearing them held the power of that message. Princess Diana stepped out in a piece that made her feel beautiful, that she was finally comfortable enough to wear, and that definitely made a splash.

Be Yourself

No matter who is telling you what to wear, even if it is unspoken rules of a family of Royals that you were once a part of, don’t listen. What you put on your body should be your own choice and a reflection of the unique individual that you are.

Princess Diana taught us that fashion can say something, and it shouldn’t be a performance for anyone but ourselves.

Take Risks

The bolder the better. If you’re finding yourself in a fashion rut or even an emotional rough patch, don’t be afraid to go for it with your clothing. Sometimes the most surprising of styles will get your mind out of that funk and your inspiration reignited.

What could have been a horrible night of betrayal and scandal for Princess Diana instead turned into one of her most iconic and memorable fashion moments. Let's all try and be a bit more like Princess Di and experiment with our fashion.

Sometimes all it takes is the perfect dress to get you back to feeling like yourself again.

When in Doubt, Little Black Dress It Out

You heard the woman. Princess Diana had planned on a completely different dress for this occasion, yet her plans were turned upside down. When she was met with a leaked outfit and nowhere else to turn, she went back to her wardrobe and chose an age-old staple, the little black dress.

A little black dress is an essential for every woman’s closet, and can always be turned to when experiencing a fashion emergency. Princess Diana did this and it was one of her most iconic looks of all time. And don’t worry, when you least expect it, your perfect little black dress will pull through, too.

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