Over her 16 years in the spotlight, Princess Diana wore too many unforgettable outfits to count. So when it was announced that a new biopic about the late Princess of Wales was forthcoming, the costuming options seemed endless, perhaps bound only by the season and year in which the film is set—December 1991, the Christmas season, as Diana decides whether or not to leave her marriage. In the end, four of the ensembles we see in Spencer stand out for their verisimilitude. These aren’t the most obvious choices, and that’s what makes the decision to include them so interesting. Here, we take a deeper look at each of the four and examine why, together, they actually represent Diana’s fashion sense better than you might expect.
Look No. 1: The ball gown, first seen in 1986
Diana’s daughter-in-law Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, caused a fervor with her glittery Jenny Packham look at the recent premiere of the James Bond film No Time to Die, but the princess had her own Bond moment decades earlier in 1987. The white-and-gold ballet-inspired ball gown was designed by husband-and-wife duo David and Elizabeth Emanuel, who also created maybe Diana’s most remembered look: her 1981 wedding dress. This particular dress was not made specifically for Diana, but rather was chosen by the Princess of Wales from the Emanuels’ 1986 collection. She wore it more than once throughout the years, including at the German Embassy in London on July 1, 1986, and later to the 1987 premiere of the James Bond film The Living Daylights in London.
The dress’s inclusion in the film is symbolic for two reasons: Number one, it is a fairy-tale dress designed by the same house that designed her bridal look. And number two, it represents a choice Diana made, rather than one that was made for her. (Perhaps not as monumental as the choice to leave her marriage—as documented in the film—but a choice, nonetheless.)
The strapless dress, which featured rhinestones, pearl beads, and gold sequins, and came with a matching headband and optional sleeves, eventually sold for $167,000 at a London auction.
Look No. 2: The tartan blazer, first seen in 1988
Diana’s mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II, is known for wearing bright, bold colors so she can be spotted easily in a crowd. That’s also a reason to wear bold plaids, which Diana did often. (Kate, too, often channels the tartan look come wintertime.) Tartan is a royal go-to for Christmastime, when Spencer is set, and for more reasons than one, it represents Diana’s desire to be seen.
Diana was particularly fond of this red-and-green Catherine Walker number, which she wore on multiple occasions, including in 1988 during her official visit to France with Prince Charles and later in 1989 on a visit to Portsmouth, England. Catherine Walker was to Diana what Jenny Packham or Emilia Wickstead is to the Duchess of Cambridge today: one of the Princess of Wales’s ultimate favorites. So it’s no surprise that a look inspired by her made the cut for the film.
Look No. 3: The nautical-inspired look, 1989
While attending the passing-out parade at Dartmouth Royal Naval College in April 1989, Diana channeled 1980s maximalism in this red Catherine Walker dress and hat by Philip Somerville. This outfit acutely symbolizes Diana’s on-trend dressing for the sometimes over-the-top 1980s, with its big buttons, thick stripes, bold color, and hat that pairs well with the event’s theme.
The version worn by Kristen Stewart for Spencer is almost an exact match, save for the color, which is a more muted yellow than Diana’s in-your-face red.
Look No. 4: The Christmas outfit, 1993
No time of year has more royal traditions around it than Christmas. Since 1988, when their usual location of Windsor Castle was being rewired, the family has journeyed to the queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk for the holiday. Every Christmas morning, they attend the service at St. Mary Magdalene, walking by throngs of onlookers on their way into the country church.
Since the film is set at Christmas in Sandringham, it makes sense to choose one of Diana’s Christmas outfits, like this red-and-black look from Christmas Day 1993—and it’s especially symbolic that this look is from a Christmas after her separation from Charles, which took place in 1992.
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