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Dressing for revenge: The historical and cultural impacts of Princess Diana’s revenge dress

MosaicDressing for revenge: The historical and cultural impacts of Princess Diana’s revenge dress

Staff Reporter

It was June 1994, and then-Prince Charles had just publicly admitted that he had cheated on Princess Diana throughout the course of their marriage. That same evening, Princess Diana arrived at a Vanity Fair party in London wearing a Christina Stambolian dress that the media soon dubbed “The Revenge Dress.”

You might think that a woman whose husband had begun publicly discussing his infidelity may have chosen to stay out of the limelight for a little while. Although she had an appearance previously scheduled for that night, no one would have questioned or cast judgment on Diana for ditching the event in the aftermath of her husband’s announcement. Instead, Diana honored her commitment, and in doing so used fashion to make a powerful statement in the wake of the scandal.

The dress itself was commissioned by the Princess three years prior, but she had yet to debut it, as she initially believed it was too daring — especially considering the relatively strict dress code for the royal family. In fact, on the night of the Vanity Fair party, she had originally intended to wear a Valentino gown. Instead, she changed her mind last minute and impulsively chose the three-year-old Stambolian dress.

The morning after the gala, Diana’s outfit made the headlines. In the weeks to come, her dress seemed to be all that British tabloids could talk about — almost more so than the infidelity that inspired it.

“Revenge is chic,” the Sun wrote the following day. “Di last night showed Charles what he’s missing.”

Despite these events occurring 28 years ago, the so-called Revenge Dress is still an infamous pop culture moment, and is what truly cemented Diana as a fashion icon.

What is it about this dress that causes us to resonate with it to this day? Surely, in the years past, many more iconic fashion moments have occurred (e.g. Jennifer Lopez’s green Versace dress and Lady Gaga’s infamous meat dress). Yet, Diana’s dress is still regarded as one of the most iconic fashion moments of all time. The iconic status is partially due to Diana’s popularity during the time, and how the dress was used to spread a message of confidence and independence in the aftermath of the former Prince’s admission to cheating.

By debuting this dress, Diana began a new era filled with independence, and truly came into her own as the people’s princess. While Diana’s style had been admired prior to the debut of the Revenge Dress, this dress truly made an impact as it was a complete 180 from the typical demure dress code for royals during this period. The Revenge Dress was unlike anything a modern royal had ever been spotted in — making it all that much more infamous.

The Revenge Dress lives on as an iconic moment in fashion and pop culture history, causing it to still be discussed in the media nearly 30 years later.

Recently, the magazine InStyle referred to Diana’s dress as “the ultimate fashion power-play.”

Diana is notoriously known for using fashion as a statement, and with the purpose of conveying a message to the greater public.

With the Revenge Dress, Diana let the world know that despite her husband’s admissions of cheating, she wouldn’t let his infidelity affect her confidence or break her down.

“I suspect there are many aspects to Diana’s continuing iconic status, but a central issue has to be her apparent ability to communicate in personal terms across mass media,” Jude Davies, a professor of English at the University of Winchester and author of biography of “Diana, A Cultural History,” says to USA Today.

Diana was, and still is, an icon for women due to the subtle balance of grace and confidence she possessed, and the dress only served to cement that status in the eyes of people everywhere.

And this is true even beyond the legacy of the iconic revenge dress. Another fashion statement of Diana’s is her refusal to wear the customary gloves favored by royals at the time while visiting and shaking hands with HIV/AIDS patients.

When looking back on the dress, it may seem a bit simplistic or even “tame” compared to the fashion statements of today. However, the dress itself became a statement of sexiness, confidence and freedom, and influenced a generation of people to become more free with fashion and to use fashion to convey a message to society.

The dress is what has truly cemented the legacy of Diana as a feminist icon, and has overall continued to make her such an influential figure within pop culture history.




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