Princess Diana's Most-Worn Gown (Dubbed the 'Travolta Dress') Goes on Display: 'It Was a Favorite'
The iconic gown that Princess Diana once wore to the White House, where she famously danced with John Travolta, was always known to be a favorite of the late royal. But until now, it wasn't known by how much.
Diana, who died in 1997, is thought to have worn the Victor Edelstein-designed dress as many as eight times in public.
In addition to swirling around the room with Travolta that evening in 1985 — which inevitably gave the dress its nickname as the "Travolta Dress" — she also danced with President Ronald Reagan and actors Tom Selleck and Clint Eastwood, adding to the roster of '80s icons she met.
Palace expert Eleri Llynn, whose team is displaying the gown at Diana's former home this week, discovered that the princess wore it to many other standout events, including the 1988 London premiere of Wall Street, where she met star Michael Douglas, and to a banquet in former West Germany a couple of years before the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. She was also photographed wearing it for a portrait in the early '90s, and then for another portrait sitting for Lord Snowdon in 1997.
Lynn, who is the curator of the Royal Ceremonial Dress collection, tells PEOPLE, "By my count makes it's the dress she wore most. It was clearly a favorite of hers.”
“It stands the test of time, and doesn’t date like some of her other early '80s looks,” Lynn adds. “The dress marks a turning point in her fashion story, where the incredible New Romantic frills and ruffles gave way to a timeless classic silhouette. And the number of times she wore it is a testament to that. You could wear it today and still be the best-dressed person.”
Now, people will be able to see it up close at Diana's former home Kensington Palace, as it goes on display for visitors following a spring and summer closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. The palace will open on Thursday to a restricted number of visitors, making the trip for those who get tickets a more intimate experience. (Booking is available via the website.)
Until recently, the dress has been under its own lockdown: Shortly after it was acquired by the charity that cares for the ceremonial dresses, Historic Royal Palaces, it was put into its own kind of quarantine in an isolation room in order to make sure it was clean of any pests before it could be brought out and viewed.
It was also not set to be on show just yet, but the strange circumstances brought about by the pandemic meant that the palace teams reorganized their plans. The charity, Historic Royal Palaces, is dependent on visitor income and says it is facing a $127 million shortfall in its finances following the pandemic. The return of visitors will make a vital contribution to the charity’s work caring for Kensington Palace and sharing its stories with the public.
“Lockdown and closing the palaces was not something we anticipated for 2020, but we are rolling with the change of circumstances," Lynn says. "We are really excited about reopening. We love having visitors and we need them more than ever as we need them to support us as a charity. And we wanted to put the dress on display as a welcome back."
The dress is presented in the Stone Hall, one of the first rooms visitors enter. Around the wall are portraits are many of the former residents of Kensington Palace, like Diana and Queen Elizabeth's late sister Princess Margaret. Current residents include Prince William and Kate Middleton and their three children.
“It’s a silk velvet and it is ruched all the way down the bodice to the knee where the skirt flares out suddenly, in a way that made the pictures so memorable when she was dancing," Lynn adds of the gown. "It could have looked clumpy under another maker’s hand. But it looks classical Grecian and sculptural. Hopefully the way the light captures it where we have displayed it will give visitors that experience.”