How Princess Diana's Skirts Acted as a 'Barometer' For Her Changing Life

Princess Diana was one of the most celebrated figures of the twentieth century and she is still remembered today as a publicly beloved and stylish member of the royal family.

Twenty-five years since her tragic death at the age of 36 in a Paris car crash, Diana's style is still referenced by top influencers and fashion designers the world over.

Her friend Catherine Walker, who also designed some of Diana's most famed outfits, believed the princess's troubled personal life seemed to manifest itself in the way she dressed.

In her 1998 memoir, Catherine Walker: An Autobiography by the Private Couturier to Diana, Princess of Wales, Walker wrote of her friend at the high and low points of her life with grief and fondness.

"Over the years the princess's skirts had been a busy topic for fashion journalists," she said. "It is true they went up and down, and in my memory they are a little like a barometer that altered to reflect her changing life. At the time of her divorce they lengthened; shortly before her death they were probably the shortest. I always liked the fact that she didn't follow fashion but did what was right for her."

Here Newsweek discovers how Diana's skirts reflected her mood, illustrating her ever changing personal life.

Diana's Favorite Fashion Designer

The designer that Diana trusted most of all with her wardrobe was Walker who created some of the princess's most memorable pieces—including the famous 'Elvis' dress in 1989.

Princess Diana Skirt Trio
Princess Diana's skirts reflected her ever changing life according to late designer, Catherine Walker, showing that the princess forged her own fashion path. Photographed (L) on a visit to New Zealand April 18, 1983. And (C) at the Serpentine Gallery, London, June 29, 1994. And (R) at Christies in London, June 2, 1997. Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

In 1997, just months before she died, Diana held an auction of her most famous dresses at Christie's in New York, many of which were designed by Walker. The sale raised $3.25 million for the princess's many charities.

Walker herself would lose her battle with cancer in 2010, just months before a design from her house was worn to the royal wedding of Diana's eldest son, William, by the mother-of-the-bride, Carole Middleton.

Today Catherine Walker & Co. is run by the designer's husband Said Cyrus, who is a favored designer of Kate Middleton.

A Conservative Newlywed

When Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles in 1981 she was catapulted into worldwide superstardom and suddenly the demands on what she wore became unimaginable.

Nicknamed by the press "Shy-Di", the princess adopted a girlish conservative style which saw her covered from neck to shin, usually worn with white opaque tights covering her legs.

Princess Diana Newlywed Skirts
The princess adopted a girlish conservative style which saw her covered from neck to shin usually worn with opaque tights covering her legs. Photographed (L) on the Isles of Scilly, April 1982. (C) in Birmingham February 29, 1984. And (R) in Australia, March 25, 1983. Kypros/Getty Images/Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

As the princess learned the wardrobe demands of a working royal, she slowly began to break away from convention. She refused to wear gloves when meeting members of the public as she felt they created an unnecessary barrier and distance.

Still, though the headstrong and confident Diana the world would come to know was forming, she relied on her "Shy Di" shin-length skirts for a few years to come.

A Princess for the 90's

The 1990s saw Diana shed the frills and ruffles of the 80s and embrace the streamlined chic of a decade standing at the threshold of a new millennium.

The princess left her tea-length skirts behind her and adopted a shorter knee-length style in suits from Catherine Walker, Jasper Conran and Tomasz Starzewski.

Princess Diana Skirt 1992
The 1990s saw Diana shed the frills and ruffles of the 80s and embrace the streamlined chic of a new decade. Photographed (L) in Swansea February 20, 1992. And (R) at the Royal Albert Hall, June 30, 1992. Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images/Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

This period in Diana's life was not a happy one romantically. Following the birth of Prince Harry, the Waleses' marriage deteriorated to the point of separation in 1992. The princess found professional fulfillment in assisting her many charities and tailored what she wore to create an impact as and when she needed it to.

This emerging confidence in her professional life correlates to the rising slightly or her hemlines but they would be lowered again around the time of her divorce.

The Serious Side to Diana

The immediate leadup to Diana's divorce in 1996 proved to be some of the toughest years of the princess's life. In 1994 Prince Charles contributed to an authorized biography and participated in an interview with BBC presenter Johnathan Dimbleby, during which he admitted to being unfaithful to his wife during the course of their marriage. The evening of the broadcast Diana appeared at an opening at London's Serpentine gallery wearing what is now remembered as the "revenge" dress.

Princess Diana 1990s Skirts
The period of time surrounding her divorce saw Princess Diana shorten and lengthen her skirts dependent on how she was feeling at the time. Photographed (L) at the Serpentine Gallery in a daring split skirt evening dress, June 29, 1994. And (R) at a charity event, January 18, 1996. Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

This black chiffon cocktail dress marked the shortest skirt length that the princess had worn to date. It stopped above the knee on one side and was draped asymmetrically with a split which rose to the mid-thigh on the other. Diana's show stopping appearance in the dress designed by Christina Stambolian knocked Charles' television interview off the front pages of the next day's newspapers.

Though the revenge dress was daringly short, it was the exception among Diana's wardrobe at this time. As Walker wrote, the princess's skirts "at the time of divorce" lengthened to create an image of a powerful and serious woman who was fighting for a new life away from the royal family.

Finding Freedom

The granting of her divorce in 1996 signified the start of a new era in Diana's life and her style changed to reflect this. Whereas during her marriage to Charles Diana's evening wardrobe consisted mainly of ball gowns and long dresses she adopted a youthful array of cocktail dresses by designers Catherine Walker and Jacques Azagury.

Though long dresses were still an option in the princess's wardrobe, she often wore her cocktail dresses in candy colors to the ballet, theater or night time events. These dresses featured perhaps the shortest skirts of Diana's working life—but they were still not as daring as the "revenge" dress's asymmetrical slit.

Princess Diana Skirts 1997
In the last year of her life Princess Diana transitioned her style into a more youthful, revealing aesthetic. Photographed (L) at a charity event in London, April 15, 1997. And (C) at a performance of the ballet, Swan Lake in London, June 3, 1997. And (R) at Christies in New York, June 23, 1997. Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

To the preview of the auction of her dresses at Christie's both in London and New York, Diana wore variations on the same design by Catherine Walker. The dresses, one in ice blue with crystal bead floral embellishments and the other in a muted rose print, showed the princess's statuesque proportions to their best advantage, elongating her legs and narrowing the waist. The dresses today are held in the Catherine Walker and Co. design archive.

Though this was to be the last phase in Diana's all too short life, it is still aesthetically remembered and referenced today—forming part of a style legacy which contributes to the longevity of her memory.

For more royal news and commentary check out Newsweek's The Royal Report podcast:

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