A sense of self A princess' metamorphosis in fashion from shy bride to sophisticated woman


She was a wife, mother and humanitarian, but no woman in our collective memory has ever been as photographed, criticized and dissected for the clothes she wore.

Fashion gurus smirked at her early and faltering attempts to find her style. The people, however, loved the way she looked. The shy teen-ager who was pressed into the dowdy style of her royal mother-in-law overcame frightful frocks and appalling hats with a tilted smile.

If the aristocratic former nanny looked like Mary Poppins in her first official public outings, we forgave her. She looked vulnerable and wonderful.

Her wedding gown, created by the British design team of Elizabeth and David Emanuel, may have looked like an overdecorated wedding cake, but it was every young bride's fantasy. Requests for imitations flooded bridal shops, and hairstylists were pushed to perfect the Di do.

Diana's loyalty to British designers may have been noble, but they may have done her a disservice. They couldn't seem to give her a look beyond the traditional royal ribbon-cutting costume. Dressing in costumes was part of the training for her role as the future queen of England. Hers was a wardrobe of stiff, satin formal gowns for diplomatic galas or garish, "Dynasty"-shouldered suits for her royal public appearances.

When the marriage failed, she was able to shed the burden of royal trappings and start finding her own approach to fashion.

Christie's auction house got the castoffs, 80 dresses that raised $3.2 million for charity. Diana started shopping internationally, slicking back her hair and wearing high heels.

Ironically, the regality that had eluded her in her royal highness days blossomed once she was cut from the royal fold.

Diana's gowns are destined to hang in museums and major collections - but are worthless without the woman who brought them to life.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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