By Sam Reed
Jul 04, 2018 @ 10:00 am
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With the royal wedding came a renewed interest in the royals, particularly the late great Princess Diana—humanitarian, mother, and prolific wearer of the bike shorts/college sweatshirts combo.

But before she became the '90s style icon she's known as today—wearing athleisure before "athleisure" was a word and sporting scandalous (by Kensington Palace standards, that is) LBDs—she didn’t always get it right. And she was well aware.

As former Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown wrote in the Princess's biography, The Diana Chronicles, the fanciful, over-the-top looks Diana wore in the ‘80s weren’t just a reflection of the decade’s more-is-more aesthetic. According to Brown, Diana was working to fit in with the palace’s standards, and her discomfort with the pomp and circumstance was evident. When she left following her divorce in 1996, she finally leaned into her true style.

“In the first half of the eighties, the times she got it wrong were as numerous as the times she got it right,” wrote Brown. “She recognized it herself when the honed, streamlined nineties Diana cleaned out her wardrobe for the auction at Christie’s in New York and marveled at all the blunders she’d worn on her back.”

Among those 97 "blunders"—which were sold for to raise money for charities fighting AIDS and cancer—is a particularly ostentatious white gown that Diana referred to as the "Elvis dress" thanks to the crazy collar situation on the matching bolero jacket.

Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images
Julian Parker/Getty Images

Brown recalls Diana telling her, “You know that Catherine Walker with all the bugle beads? People in England don’t wear those kind of clothes anymore.” She had originally commissioned the gown for an official visit to Hong Kong (the pearl beading is a nod to Chinese culture), and later re-wore it for the 1989 British Fashion Awards.

The Catherine Walker creation was one of many by the British designer that Diana wore during her time as a princess. In 2012, Walker reminisced, "Whenever I saw the Princess in this dress, I could not help but feel that it would not be possible for anyone else ever to wear this dress and bolero."

She added, "She shone in the dress and the dress shone around her in a shimmering column of glistening pearls." 

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But not everyone was a fan—specifically, Di's eldest son. Brown writes, "The curator of the [Christie's] show, Meredith Etherington-Smith, recalls Prince William commenting, ‘Mummy, that’s too awful to sell’ when they added one especially over-the-top bugle-beaded number to the pricey inventory of glittering duds.”

During the auction, which raised 3 million pounds for the various charities, the dress was purchased by The Franklin Mint, a company which produces Diana memorabilia. They eventually released a Princess Diana doll wearing the Elvis dress.

The gown was later donated to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, where it's currently in storage. And, love it or hate it, the Elvis dress will go down as an iconic Princess Diana look. 

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