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Princess Diana's '80s Style Evolution: A Journey from Shy to Glamorous

CEO Tinh Phung
When Lady Diana Spencer stepped into the public eye at just 19 years old, her fashion choices were far from remarkable. She donned cashmere sweaters, Laura Ashley skirts, and pie-crust blouses - the typical attire...

When Lady Diana Spencer stepped into the public eye at just 19 years old, her fashion choices were far from remarkable. She donned cashmere sweaters, Laura Ashley skirts, and pie-crust blouses - the typical attire of a "Sloane" back then. Little did anyone know that this unassuming girl would go on to become one of the most stylish and influential women of the '80s. Princess Diana's transformation from "Shy Di" to "Dynasty Di" captivated the world, making her a fashion icon of the era.

Diana's love for glitzy, over-the-top dresses, frilly gowns, and dramatic hats made her the epitome of British fashion and a global style idol. Even her initial attempts at dressing like a princess, with all their flaws and experimentation, only endeared her more to the public. Diana didn't dress to please fashion critics; she dressed to connect with the people who adored her. Her clothing became her armor as the War of the Wales unfolded behind palace walls.

A Fashion Journey Begins

In the early years, Diana's fashion sense was unsophisticated and reflected her lack of experience. She favored unremarkable and modest outfits like patterned sweaters and long skirts. When she got engaged to Prince Charles, she didn't even own a suit. In an attempt to appear conservative, she chose an off-the-rack suit that made her look matronly. However, her bright blue color choice and low-heeled pumps became an instant trend, with thousands of Lady Di-inspired footwear flooding the market.

Seeing the photographs from her engagement, Diana was determined to refine her style and lose weight. This suit marked the beginning of her transformation from a Sloane Ranger to a glamorous princess.

A Revealing Black Dress

Shortly after her engagement, Diana made a bolder fashion choice. For her first formal engagement with Charles, she wore a revealing black taffeta gown by Elizabeth and David Emmanuel, the designers of her iconic wedding dress. Diana looked stunning in it, and it became one of the most sophisticated outfits she had ever worn. However, the dress caused controversy, with some criticizing her for revealing too much. Rather than being guided through the evening by Charles, it was Princess Grace who offered comfort and support.

This occasion set the stage for a lifetime of events where Diana's impeccable fashion sense would outshine everything around her. She also developed a signature move - covering her décolletage with her clutch when alighting from a car.

Embracing Feminine Maternity Designs

Diana's pregnancy with Prince William brought about another chapter in her fashion evolution. She popularized frilly blouses and multi-strand pearl chokers, and her maternity designs became a hit. One of her favorite dresses during this time was an empire-waist white silk gown she wore to meet Elizabeth Taylor. Diana cleverly drew attention away from her baby bump by emphasizing her neck.

Age-Appropriate Suits and Polka Dots

As Diana aimed for a more age-appropriate and respectable image, she started wearing better-fitting suits in vibrant colors. Frilly pie-crust collared blouses became her signature look. One standout moment was when she wore a polka dot suit by Jasper Conran during a walkabout with Charles in Tetbury. This outfit charmed onlookers and even landed her on the cover of People magazine.

Red Dresses and Distinctive Hats

Diana knew the power of red, and she loved wearing it. She often paired red dresses with white tights and low-heeled red pumps. One memorable red ensemble was a polka dot dress with a pie-crust collar by Donald Campbell, which she wore to a wedding with the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.

She also experimented with distinctive hats and silk dresses, striking a balance between modesty and style.

Fashion Evolution Continues

As the '80s drew to a close, Diana's style underwent a drastic transformation. She chose more fashionable looks and began working closely with designer Catherine Walker. Walker's tailored aesthetic complemented Diana's evolving taste perfectly. The designer became her go-to for many memorable looks, and Diana even wore a Catherine Walker black coat dress when she was tragically laid to rest.

A Fashion Legacy

Princess Diana's fashion sense and ability to select the perfect outfit defined her during her time in the spotlight. She brought back the popularity of hats and turned them into a fashion statement. Diana's impeccable style and confidence set her apart from any royal before her.

Her legacy lives on, and the impact she made on the fashion world remains undeniable. Princess Diana will always be remembered for her daring fashion choices, influential style, and her ability to transform from a shy teenager to an iconic and glamorous princess.

Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.

diana charles engagement announcement Image: Alamy

Princess Diana wearing black dress next to Prince Grace of Monaco and Prince Charles in 1982 Image: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Princess Diana wears sparkly red dress at Wales Jewish Welfare Board Dinner Image: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Princes Diana wearing a red jacket with white polka dots and a white turtle neck on the cover of People Image: People Magazine / Meredith Coporation

Princess Diana wearing red dress and hat at the Soames Wedding in 1981 Image: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Princess Diana wearing a white coat when boarding a plane with Prince Charles 1981 Image: Ajax News & Feature Service / Alamy Stock Photo

Princess Diana wears green dress while dancing with Prince Charles Image: David Cooper / Alamy Stock Photo

Princess Diana dancing with John Travolta after a White House dinner for the Prince and Princess of Wales. Nov. 9 1985. Image: Everett Collection Historical / Alamy Stock Photo

Princess Diana wears designer dress in 1982 Image: MediaPunch Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

Original Article: Best Life