The Meaning Behind Princess Diana’s Only Met Gala Dress

Princess Diana’s One and Only Met Gala Dress Was Loaded With Meaning

Photo: Getty Images

The date is December 9, 1996, and designers and their muses are gathering at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to fete the work of Christian Dior—the focus of the latest fashion exhibit and accompanying gala. Calvin Klein and Christy Turlington make a photogenic duo, while Christian Lacroix and Iman pull out all the stops with their combination of corduroy, crystals, and corsetry. Linda Evangelista arrives in a dangerously low scoop-neck gown, accompanied by her then-love interest Kyle MacLachlan, and it’s all smiles from Amber Valletta as she navigates the famous staircase. Then, somewhere in the hubbub and the hobnobbing, there’s Diana, Princess of Wales.

Linda Evangelista and Kyle MacLachlan. Photo: Getty Images

The royal made a discreet entrance, accompanied by her friend Liz Tilberis, while wearing her most un-royal look to date. The Princess’s inky silk John Galliano for Dior slip dress, with its lace negligée trim and matching dressing-gown style robe, was eons away from the Di who once charmed the world with her sheep jumper, and signaled that the recent divorcée was enjoying a new phase of her life unshackled from Kensington Palace protocol.

Making her entrance with fashion editor Liz Tilberis. Photo: Getty Images

It was not just the lingerie detailing that spelled out “liberation!” at the ball, but the fact that Di had chosen to commission Galliano, the industry’s then wildly romantic, über prolific creative, to make her a special version of a midnight-blue dress from his first collection for the maison. It was the ultimate fashion flex on a night when all eyes were watching. If that didn’t score her fashion kudos, the Dior Lady Di bag—originally called the Chouchou and renamed in her honor—dangling from her wrist, along with acres of diamond bracelets, certainly did. Diana was reportedly worried about what her 14-year-old son, Prince William, might make of his mother in red-carpet mode, but the headlines were no less sensational than those peddled by the Christina Stambolian “revenge dress” the Princess wore to the Serpentine Summer Party in 1994. Despite her step back from the spotlight, everyone still wanted a piece of Diana.

A close-up of that signature French mani, her sparkling jewels and Lady Di Dior bag. Photo: Getty Images

Far from using fashion’s big night to further her own agenda, the Princess understood the power of her personal image to promote a good cause. Just as she had thrown her weight behind London Fashion Week and the British Fashion Awards previously, raising awareness for the Met Costume Institute fundraiser was a gift she could bestow with just one hell of a dress and a seven-strand pearl choker. Will modern-day royals, including the new Princess of Wales, ever follow suit? It’s hard to imagine the senior and serious Kate navigating the red carpet alongside the Kardashians, but stranger things have happened in fashion and, indeed, the royal family.

Inside the hallowed museum halls. Photo: Getty Images

This article was originally published on

More From Vogue

Share now on:
FacebookXEmailCopy Link