The Revenge Dress

August 8, 2018

When Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer on July 29th, 1981, people in the United Kingdom and across the world, rejoiced for what they saw as a fairy-tale marriage.  The Prince had finally found his Princess and they would live happily ever after, or so everyone hoped!

The truth about the marriage that followed was far from being a fairy-tale.

Following the birth of two sons; William – heir to the throne, in July 1982 and Harry in September 1984, the marriage fell apart. Diana would later say that they were “the closest we’ve ever, ever been and ever will be,” in the lead up to Harry’s birth but that on discovering the child was another son, Charles, who desperately wanted a baby girl, all but deserted her.  As Diana would later tell biographer Andrew Morton “Charles always wanted a girl. Harry was a boy. His first comment was, ‘Oh God, it’s a boy.’ His second: ‘And he’s even got red hair.’”  Diana claimed that the night Harry was born, while she was still recuperating in hospital, Charles chose to attend the theatre with his “friend” Camilla Parker-Bowles. This was a grave disappointment to her and signalled the beginning of the end of their marriage.

By the early 1990s there had been reports of marital problems and the release of the now infamous “Squidgygate” taped conversations between Diana and close friend James Gilbey and “Camillagate” taped conversations between Charles and Camilla painted neither party in a favourable light. It became apparent that the marriage was untenable and the then Prime Minister, John Major, announced an “amicable separation” of the couple to the House of Commons in December 1992. Throughout this period, Diana felt she was being portrayed as the villain of the piece by both Buckingham Palace and Charles’ allies and staff in the media.  She took great exception to this as Charles continued to ignore/deny rumours of his affair with Camilla, an affair which she believed started even before her marriage to him!

At a Vanity Fair party on June 29th, 1994 in London Diana was on the defensive, although she felt like the victim, she refused to be seen as one. Her former stylist Anna Harvey said that night she wanted to “look a million dollars”.  Valentino had prematurely announced that Diana would be wearing one of their creations at the party, in something Diana saw as “crude opportunism”, so she changed her mind and decided upon a more daring look. The dress she chose was designed  by Christina Stambolian and was a one-of-a-kind – black, low cut and off both shoulders, it had a ruched asymmetrical bodice with cap sleeves and a sash at the side.  She accessorised the dress with a monochrome choker and pearl earrings. It hugged Diana’s curves perfectly and caused a sensation when she arrived at the party.

Originally designed for Diana three years prior, she had been too nervous to wear it until now. So, why did Diana decide to wear the dress at this event, on this particular night? Charles had recorded an interview with Jonathan Dimbleby which was to be broadcast at the exact moment Diana was arriving at the party.  It was during this interview that Charles finally admitted his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles.  He revealed in the interview that he had tried to be “faithful and honourable” during his marriage to Diana, and that it was only when the marriage became “irretrievably broken down, us both having tried” that his affair had begun.  On a night when most women might have hidden away, Diana stepped out oozing confidence and elegance. She also imbued an air of happiness that even caught the press off-guard.

Kerry Taylor – Auctions who sold the dress in 2013 said; “We called that ‘The Revenge Dress’.  She wore that the same evening Prince Charles confessed to his adultery with Camilla. Diana had a public engagement at the Serpentine Gallery and… went out in that dress looking drop dead gorgeous. She made a big statement right there.”

The iconic “Revenge Dress” as it has become known is on display at Newbridge Silverware’s Museum of Style Icons. Tickets cost €7 for an Adult and €5 for students and senior Citizens. Children under 12 go free with a paying adult.

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