In her short time in the royal family, she captured hearts around the world through her impeccable (yet accessible and relatable) sense of style, kind heart, relatability, and charity work. Diana’s legacy lives on in the countless women she has inspired to better themselves and to stay strong during tough times.
Princess Diana's Style Was Royal yet Relatable
Though Diana is remembered for many things, she cemented her legacy as a style icon before she tied the knot with Prince Charles. Here’s a breakdown of some of her most iconic looks and how her taste in clothes made her seem relatable.
Her style evolution began when she was photographed at Balmoral Castle with Charles in the spring of 1981 in a bright sweater, tan pants, and rain boots. While this look isn’t the pinnacle of elegance, it proved to the public that Diana’s style was accessible and that any woman could dress like her if they wanted to.
We can’t discuss Princess Diana’s style without her David and Elizabeth Manuel wedding gown, made of ivory silk taffeta and antique lace. The gown had a 25-foot train and is what fairytale dreams are made of. Nearly 40 years later, it remains one of the most iconic wedding dresses.
If any photograph captured Diana’s beautiful and carefree nature, it’s this photo of her and Prince Charles in a tweed suit and ivory flats at Balmoral. The look is flawless, but her smile and windswept hair make the look unforgettable.
On her first royal tour with Charles and baby Prince William to Australia in 1983, Diana wore a bright yellow dress that helped her stand out from the crowd. This trip is famous for becoming the moment when Diana realized how beloved she was by the public, even more so than Charles. The youthful feel of the dress helped symbolize that the young Diana was now the favorite over the older and stuffy Charles.
One of my favorite Diana outfits is one of the easiest ones to recreate, and that’s her iconic pink sweater paired with pink-and-white checkered pants and white flats. The simplicity of this stylish outfit shows how far Diana had come regarding her style but still made sure her look was relatable.
Diana made many red carpet appearances, but her most famous red carpet look was a blue chiffon silk evening gown by Catherine Walker at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival. The dress was compared to Grace Kelly’s dress in To Catch a Thief. She wore the dress again in 1989, proving that even royals recycle clothes.
Diana’s “revenge dress” is another of her most iconic dresses of all time. She wore the daring black off-the-shoulder gown with an asymmetrical hem to a gala in June 1994, the same day Charles publicly admitted to having an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles.
People Senior Style Editor Brittany Talarico writes, "Of course Diana knew that all eyes were going to be on her. She didn't have to say anything with words. It was a fashion response — that dress became her clear message to Charles and the world."
The “revenge dress” is the perfect example of Diana’s resilience. Instead of sulking over Charles cheating on her, she kept her head up and went on to show the world how confident she was. She exuded class, elegance, and sexiness at the same time, something only she (and Audrey Hepburn) could pull off.
Diana Was "The People's Princess"
Fashion aside, Diana is also well remembered for her down-to-earth personality and devotion to charity work. Her charisma is what made her the most popular and beloved royal of her time and gave her the nickname “The People’s Princess.”
What drew people to Diana was that she came across as approachable and relatable. Despite being the daughter of an Earl, her youth (she was only 20 when she married 32-year-old Charles) gave her a girl-next-door persona that everyone loved. With the rise of the paparazzi and tabloid journalism, she was photographed everywhere she went, making her seem more available to the public. The more people saw her, the more they loved her.
Diana took advantage of this attention and her newfound platform by devoting herself to charity work. She was the patron of over 100 charities. Her charitable work often involved helping children, and she was famous for helping to destigmatize the AIDS epidemic by shaking hands with and physically comforting AIDS patients. When it came to her role in AIDS awareness, Gavin Hart, who was head of the National AIDS Trust when Diana died, said, "In our opinion, Diana was the foremost ambassador for AIDS awareness on the planet and no one can fill her shoes in terms of the work she did."
Diana’s other charities included raising awareness for leprosy, homelessness in London, and children’s issues. Her love for children can also be seen in how devoted she was to her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, who try their best to carry on her legacy of charity and kindness.
Unfortunately for Diana, the love from the public didn’t guarantee love from her husband or love for herself — her marriage to Prince Charles was in shambles, and she suffered from bulimia. Her suffering surprised the public because they couldn’t understand how Charles couldn’t see what the public saw in her. Former royal correspondent of The Guardian writes, “People invested a lot of emotional intensity in her, and then were disillusioned by the fact that the royal family hadn’t changed and that it could treat this prize asset in the way that it did.”
How Kate and Meghan Continue Diana's Legacy
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, more commonly known as Kate Middleton, continues her late mother-in-law’s legacy through her style, charity work, and her occasional tributes to her.
Like Diana, Kate is known for being a loving and hands-on mother. This is seen in one of the sweetest ways that she honors Diana, by having her kids make Mothers Day cards for Diana, which she gives to William.
On Instagram, she wrote, “This year Mother’s Day will be different once again. Many of us will be apart from our loved ones, but looking forward to a time in the not too distant future when we can give our mother a hug again.”
She continued, “But for those experiencing bereavement, today may be particularly challenging. Each year on Mother’s Day, George, Charlotte and Louis make cards remembering their Granny, Diana, for William. Whatever your circumstances, we are thinking of you this Mother’s Day.”
William and Kate have also continued Diana’s legacy of philanthropy by being active in several charities during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the pair has helped modernize the monarchy through social media, which makes the royal pair feel accessible. William and Kate’s charity work mainly focuses on children, parenting, and mental health. Kate shares Diana’s love for children, as her main project is the Early Years Project, which is dedicated to helping children’s mental health in their most vulnerable years.
One of Kate’s sweetest and most Diana-like moments happened earlier this month. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Kate promised a little girl with cancer that they would meet in person while wearing a pink dress. This was a dream come true for 5-year-old Mila, who has always dreamed of meeting a “real life princess” in a pink dress.
The most telling way in which Kate carries on Diana’s legacy is she and William naming their daughter, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, after her late grandmother.
Though Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, and Kate Middleton are very different, Meghan also finds ways to honor her late mother-in-law. Like Kate, she named her daughter Lilibet “Lili” Diana Mountbatten-Windsor after her daughter’s late grandmother. Like Diana, Meghan is also devoted to charity work, one of the many mutual interests that she shares with her husband, Prince Harry.
When Meghan first became royal, the press treated her horribly, leading to comparisons to how Diana was treated. In her and Harry’s tell-all interview with Oprah, Harry revealed that the main reason the couple left the United Kingdom was to avoid history repeating itself. It’s widely believed that the paparazzi's carelessness played a part in Diana's death, making it understandable as to why the couple felt the need to take drastic actions to avoid a tragedy.
Meghan’s tell-all interview also drew comparisons to Diana’s now infamous and "deceitful" interview in 1995. A recent investigation proved that Diana was unknowingly tricked into doing a tell-all interview, and both William and Harry blame the interview’s deceitful tactics for causing the media storm that eventually killed her.
Over two decades after her untimely and tragic death, Princess Diana continues to inspire women around the world. Through her relatable sense of style, kind spirit, and love for charity work, she became the woman that all women aspired to be.
Article updated 9/1/2021.
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