Written by Megan C. HIlls, CNN
Don’t miss CNN’s six-part documentary series “Diana” featuring rarely seen footage and new interviews that reveal the person behind the princess.Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex have each forged their own stylish paths as members of the royal family, commanding the attention of the fashion press and causing the garments they’re photographed wearing to sell out.While their wardrobes are very different — with Kate adopting classic British chic and Meghan embracing sleek, modern elegance — both have paid tribute to perhaps the most influential royal fashion icon of them all: Princess Diana.
Since entering the public eye, the duchesses have woven elements of their late mother-in-law’s iconic outfits into their own closets. Diana’s penchant for Peter Pan collars and pussy bow blouses, for example, have become signatures for Kate, while Meghan has channeled Diana’s love of figure-hugging dresses and sharp tailoring.
A look back at Princess Diana’s life in fashion
Other instances of sartorial borrowing have been more literal: Prince William and Prince Harry inherited items from their mother’s vast jewelry collection after her death in 1997, and some of her pieces have trickled into their wives’ ensembles — often to canny narrative effect. Who could forget Meghan sporting a diamond Cartier tennis bracelet that belonged to Diana during her explosive sit-down interview with Oprah, or Kate posing for engagement photos with Diana’s famed 12-carat sapphire and diamond ring on her finger?
Read on for more on how the pair have paid tribute to Princess Diana through their thoughtful style choices.
The blue polka dot dress
Kate Middleton wears an Alessandra Rich dress to an event at Bletchley Park in 2019, inviting comparisons to one worn by Princess Diana more than 30 years earlier.
Polka dots and exaggerated collars were a mainstay of Princess Diana’s wardrobe, and Kate has embraced both over the years. Most notably, the Duchess of Cambridge has stepped out on multiple occasions in a spotty navy dress with a white collar and cuffs by London-based designer Alessandra Rich. The dress looks like a contemporary take on one worn by Princess Diana during a photo shoot at Kensington Palace in 1985.
Kate wore the dress for an official family portrait taken to celebrate Prince Charles’ 70th birthday in 2018, and again a year later to an event at Bletchley Park.
The Alessandra Rich dress has proven popular with other high-profile figures: In 2018, Meghan’s close friend and former “Suits” co-star Abigail Spencer wore the same dress to Meghan and Harry’s wedding, while Ivanka Trump wore it with a chunky white belt to accompany her father on a trip to an Illinois steel mill.
Statement maternity wear
Meghan and Princess Diana were pictured wearing similar embroidered green coats while they were pregnant.
While pregnant with Prince Harry, Princess Diana’s style shifted to accommodate her bump with floaty dresses and striking coats. On a visit to Bristol in 1982, she stepped out in an elegant green coat with velvet details and a matching hat.
Although Meghan steered clear of voluminous dresses while she was pregnant with her first child, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, bold statement coats became a recurring feature of her maternity style. In 2019, while visiting a Commonwealth Day event at Canada House in London, she wore a forest green Erdem coat. Though its cut was more modern, the garment still channeled the spirit of Diana’s glamorous coat.
The red Lindo Wing ensembles
Kate and Diana standing on the steps of St Mary’s Hospital decades apart. Kate’s red Jenny Packham dress with Peter Pan-collar appeared to be a tribute to her late mother-in-law.
Kate took a leaf out of Princess Diana’s postpartum playbook after the birth of her third child, Prince Louis, in 2018. She wore a red Jenny Packham dress with a lace Peter Pan collar to pose for photographers with her husband and newborn outside the Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. The dress evoked the striking red coat-dress, offset with a white collar, that Diana wore when leaving the same hospital in 1984, after giving birth to Prince Harry, with her then-husband Prince Charles at her side.
Diana was among the first royals to give birth in hospital, as opposed to at home, and welcomed both of her sons at St. Mary’s. Kate has followed in her footsteps, giving birth to all her children in the same facility and posing on the exact same stairs for photographers.
Kate also paid a subtler tribute to her mother-in-law when she gave birth to her eldest son, Prince George, in 2013, wearing another Jenny Packham dress. She opted for a polka dot print, just as Diana did when she announced the birth of Prince William on the Lindo Wing’s steps in 1982.
Somber mourning outfits
Meghan and Diana both wearing black buckled coats, wide brimmed hats and red poppy brooches to memorial events.
When attending somber services as part of their royal duties, both Meghan and Princess Diana adhered to tradition, opting for all-black looks that reflected the solemnity of the occasion.
In 1990, on Remembrance Day, Princess Diana paid her respects at the Yokohama War Cemetery in Japan wearing a black coat cinched with a gold buckle, as well as a wide-brimmed hat and silk pussy bow blouse in the same hue.
Meghan struck a similarly subdued tone in 2019, when she attended the annual Remembrance Sunday services at the Cenotaph war memorial in Westminster — an event that honors soldiers killed during wartime — wearing a silver-buckled black coat by Stella McCartney and a bow-embellished hat by milliner Stephen Jones.
Both pinned a red poppy brooch to their lapels to commemorate the lives lost.
Pearls and tiaras
Kate Middleton and Princess Diana are both seen wearing the Lover’s Knot tiara, matching Collingwood pearl drop earrings and a Royal Family Order brooch.
Tiaras are typically reserved for state occasions, but when an event calls for one, Kate often gravitates toward the Lover’s Knot Tiara — one of Princess Diana’s favorite pieces. Pictured above being worn by Kate during a state banquet honoring King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands in 2018, the tiara is reportedly so heavy that it sometimes gave Diana headaches.
The styling of Kate’s outfit that day mirrored elements of a look Diana wore in Vancouver in 1986. Kate appears to have opted for the same earrings as Diana, identified by Town & Country magazine as the Collingwood Pearl Drop Earrings. But more crucially, she affixed a badge featuring a yellow ribbon, miniature crown and a diamond-ringed portrait of the Queen to her gown.
Known as the Royal Family Order of Queen Elizabeth II, this rare badge is bestowed upon women in the royal family at the Queen’s discretion. Previous British monarchs have their own Family Orders, and Queen Elizabeth received them from both her father, King George VI, and grandfather, King George V.
Bold one-shouldered gowns
Princess Diana’s stylist Anna Harvey once said Princess Diana loved one-shouldered gowns and Meghan Markle followed in her footsteps in a slinky Givenchy gown.
The Duchess of Sussex caused a stir at the 2018 Fashion Awards when she made a surprise appearance to bestow Givenchy’s then-artistic director Clare Waight Keller — the designer behind her wedding dress — with the award for British womenswear designer of the year. Fittingly, Meghan wore one of Keller’s designs for the occasion: a black one-shouldered Givenchy gown that prominently displayed her baby bump.The sleek dress appeared to be a tribute to Diana’s love of one-shouldered dresses, such as the slinky blue Versace gown she wore during a 1996 visit to Sydney, Australia. But the late royal’s love of one-sleeve looks goes back further than that. Writing for British Vogue in 1997, following Diana’s death, the magazine’s former deputy editor Anna Harvey explained that the princess had fallen in love with the silhouette early on.
She recalls dressing Diana in a white beaded one-sleeved dress, by Japanese designer Hachi, that was heavily photographed by the press in the 1980s. “She looked sensational but the establishment hated it. It was too revealing; they didn’t think it was royal,” Harvey wrote.