An inevitable target of the paparazzi, royals like celebrities are constantly criticized or celebrated for their fashion choices. We demand that they wear the latest fashions and become the beauties and style icons of our times. Thus, celebrities and royals often become the sites on which cultural ideologies are inscribed.
Princess Diana a royal that adhered to both the realms of royalty and fashion makes for a worthy discussion. Widely praised for her purity as a virgin bride and her latter charitable works, Princess Diana became a cult icon and a modern incarnation of the Virgin Mary and Mother Theresa. From the beginning of her reign, Diana was to rule as a self-abnegating, virgin princess. Indeed, Diana was as Paglia writes was to be seen as “magically ever-virgin” (Paglia 1994: 167-8). The public demanded Princess Di follow the royal rulebook and meet this chaste royal ideal; The Sunday Telegraph in 1998 wrote, “As long as the Princess’s great beauty was shown compassionately, tending the sick and the needy, it was beauty matched with goodness’” (1998: 174). However, what is most ironic about Princess Diana’s public appearances is that they did not always elicit feminine virtues of modesty and delicacy. Many of her fashion choices were infused with a sexuality and sensuality uncommon for a royal lady.
Take for example, her bridal dress. During her wedding, Diana’s virginity was valorized; A 1996 Chicago Tribune article wrote that the presentation of “Diana as a 20-year-old virgin bride merely added to her mystique and her novelty” (Gorstein 2011). Strangely, Diana’s bridal dress didn’t symbolize an innocent, docile girl. Instead, with its caged crinoline and enormous veil, her bridal dress evoked the grandeur and eroticism of an exaggerated feminine silhouette. Beatrix Campbell in Diana Princess of Wales: How Sexual Politics Shook the Monarchy calls Diana’s wedding dress “a symbol of sexuality and grandiosity” and writes, “Diana’s body was displayed and desired by millions, the collective witness to her sexualization—the world penetrated her with its gaze, and infused what it could not see with its own fantasies” (1988: 111). The padded hips and fitted bodice of the crinoline transformed Diana’s thin frame into that of a fertile feminine figure. The dress’ dramatic feminine shape gave the illusion of a voluptuous woman, concealing Diana’s thin frame.
Though heralded for her innocence and youth, Diana’s bridal gown evoked other virtues, taking on a sensuality that would continue throughout her reign. Rather than eliciting a virginal persona in her wedding dress, Diana embraced a hyper-feminine and sexualized look that possibly failed to confirm the public’s virginal image of her, but indulged its more clandestine fantasies of her.
Campbell, B. (1988), Diana: Princess of Wales: How Sexual Politics Shook the Monarchy, The Woman’s Press, London.
Paglia, C. (1994), Vamps and Tramps, New York: Vintage Books.