Diana’s Post-Divorce Met Gala Dress Was Lingerie-Inspired Dior Slip

Ahead of the 2022 Met Gala, Newsweek examines the evening that Princess Diana wowed New York’s great and good in an appearance which marked a bold new stage in her life.

DIANA IN 1996

Princess Diana’s appearance at the 1996 Met Gala, the annual fundraising event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, came during a period of extreme change in her personal life. For the occasion, Diana debuted a bold and daring new look.

It had been a year of change for Diana who, since the broadcast of her 1995 BBC Panorama interview with Martin Bashir had aired, was in discussions with Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II about obtaining a divorce.

Charles and Diana had been formally separated since 1992 and since then the princess had begun to utilize her star power to further her humanitarian aims and ambitions.

Diana, the Princess of Wales, wore an ink blue Dior by John Galliano dress to the Met Gala for her first and only appearance at fashion’s biggest night in 1996. (Photo by Stephane Cardinale/Sygma via Getty Images)
Getty Images

Though the decision was not reached easily, Diana released a statement in February of 1996 announcing that she had agreed to a divorce.

The Waleses’ divorce was finalized on August 28, 1996, with the princess loosing her HRH (Her Royal Highness) title, retaining her apartments at Kensington Palace and receiving a lump sum settlement of £17 million.

Newly single, public focus on Diana intensified as she began to chart a new course for her life and in doing so adopted a more streamlined, modern way of dressing.

Amidst the chaos of the divorce, the princess received an invitation through her long term friend and fashion advisor Liz Tilberis, then the editor of Harper’s Bazaar in New York, to the Met Gala in December.

THE DRESS

The 1996 Met Gala celebrated the opening of the Costume Institute’s exhibition dedicated to the life and career of Christian Dior.

British born designer John Galliano—who would be unceremoniously fired from Dior following anti-Semitic comments made in 2011—had recently taken over creative control of the fashion house and had debuted his first collection earlier in the year.

Princess Diana Dior Met Gala
Princess Diana attended the 1996 Met Gala with friend and Harper’s Bazaar editor Liz Tilberis and was shown through the exhibition by designer John Galliano. December 9, 1996.
Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images

Unbeknownst to the fashion press, the princess had arranged to have one of Galliano’s debut Dior looks made up for her to wear for the gala.

Galliano was known as fashion’s bad boy in the 1990s, making this an even more daring choice for Diana. Fittingly, another Galliano-helmed collection from the same year took inspiration from the naughty Incroyables and Merveilleuses—French aristocrats who subverted their noble status by dressing in cheeky, see-through fashions.

When she arrived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on December 9, 1996, alongside Tilberis, Diana made fashion history in what is now remembered as one of the most important looks of all time.

The dress itself was near scandal-making for a princess, being inspired by lingerie in the form of a midnight blue silk slip dress, cut on the bias with delicate black lace applique embellishment and shoulder straps.

The princess, according to reporting by the Daily Mailnearly didn’t wear the design out of fear its revealing nature would upset the sensitive teenage Prince William.

Always followed for her fashion, the decision to go ahead and wear the design was demonstrative of the new, post-divorce Diana who was free from the immediate constraints and expectations placed on the wife of a future king and senior member of the royal family.

In her choice of accessories though Diana affirmed her royal status as a mother of the future king and though divorced, still Diana, Princess of Wales.

THE JEWELS

Where this was most evident is through her choice of jewels. Following the finalization of her divorce, Diana continued to wear her diamond and sapphire engagement ring, having become such a part of her public image. With this, on the night of the gala, she wore an equally royal jewel in the form of her large sapphire, diamond and pearl choker necklace.

The central element of the necklace had been given to the princess as a wedding present from Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

Princess Diana Met Gala Dress Dior
Princess Diana wore a dress from John Galliano’s first collection for Christian Dior to the 1996 Met Gala with Liz Tilberis. December 9, 1996.
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

Diana also wore sapphire and diamond earrings and a pair of matching bracelets.

THE ICONIC NAMESAKE HANDBAG

As a handbag, the princess choose one of her favorite styles which formed a strong link between herself and the house of Christian Dior.

On a 1995 visit to Paris the then-first lady, Madame Bernadette Chirac, presented Diana with a present in the form of a small but elegant box handbag from Christian Dior named the “Chouchou.”

The bag quickly became one of the princess’s favorite accessories and she ordered a variation made in blue the following year to, according to Dior, match her eyes, “because it suited [her] well.”

Following her love of the bag, the house of Dior renamed the style in Diana’s honor to the “Lady Dior.” This was a nod to the princess’s maiden name of Lady Diana Spencer.

Princess Diana Met Gala 1996 handbag
Princess Diana wore a custom made Christian Dior handbag to the 1996 Met Gala in a style that would be renamed “Lady Dior” after her. Photographed (L) at the Met Gala December 9, 1996. And worn (R) on an official visit to Argentina in 1995.
Stephane Cardinale/Sygma via Getty Images/Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

On the evening of the Dior Met Gala in 1996 Diana wore her blue variation of the handbag and was guided through the exhibition with event co-chair Tilberis and Galliano.

This was to be the only Met Gala that Diana would attend as the event took place just months before her tragic death in a Paris car crash at the age of 36 in August 1997.

The only other member of the British royal family to have attended the gala is Queen Elizabeth II’s granddaughter Princess Beatrice who attended the event in 2018.

For more royal news and commentary check out Newsweek’s The Royal Report podcast:
Princess Diana Met Gala 1996 Tilbiris
Princess Diana’s daring Christian Dior outfit worn to the 1996 Met Gala signified the Princess’ bold new outlook after her divorce. December 9, 1996.
WireImage/Anwar Hussein

Leave a Comment