The Real Story of Princess Diana's 'Revenge' Dress — and How She Nearly Didn't Wear It

Princess Diana made a huge statement without saying a word

Diana At Serpentine
Princess Diana. Photo: Jayne Fincher/Getty Images

Princess Diana is a style icon, and no outfit got as much buzz as her "Revenge dress."

In June 1994, Diana stepped out for a gala at the Serpentine Gallery in London wearing a fitted, black, off-the-shoulder dress with an asymmetrical hemline and chiffon train that flowed in the wind.

The revealing ensemble was unusual for a member of the typically buttoned-up royal family — but that's not the only reason it grabbed headlines: Princess Diana wore the head-turning number the same night that Prince Charles confessed on national television that he had been unfaithful to her.

In an ITV documentary that aired a year and a half following the couple's split, Queen Elizabeth's eldest son and heir said he remained faithful to Diana "until it became irretrievably broken down," confirming rumors of his affair with now-wife Camilla Parker-Bowles. "It is a deeply regrettable thing to happen, but it does happen, and unfortunately, in this case, it has happened," Charles said.

"On a human level for Diana, you can only imagine how upsetting that would have been, not only to hear that but to know that now the world has heard it. Effectively, Charles has aired some serious dirty laundry," explained PEOPLE Editorial Director Michelle Tauber in PEOPLE's "Diana Diaries." "Some may have decided this was altogether too much and tried to avoid the cameras, stay out of the limelight — just let the storm pass. That is not what Diana chose to do that night."

Princess Diana kept her scheduled appearance at the gala hosted by Vanity Fair.

"Of course, Diana knew that all eyes were going to be on her," PEOPLE Deputy Style Director Brittany Talarico explained. "She didn't have to say anything with words. It was a fashion response — that dress became her clear message to Charles and the world."

Princess Of Wales At The Serpentine Gallery
Princess Diana. Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

However, she did change her outfit plans. Diana had initially planned on wearing a Valentino dress to the event, but when the ensemble was leaked to the press, she made a last-minute switch to the famous black number by designer Christina Stambolian that had been in her closet for three years.

"She decided that she was going to fight back, and she decided that she would choose a dress that she had previously rejected as being a little too much. And she would put that on and go out on the town," said William Ivey Long, costume designer for the Broadway musical Diana.

Princess Diana
Princess Diana. Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

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Three years later, Diana put what became dubbed the "Revenge dress" by the media up for auction along with more of her clothes. It sold for $65,000. The money benefitted cancer and AIDS-related charities.

In 2017, the "Revenge dress" was displayed in the Museum of Style Icons, located in Ireland. The exhibition, Diana: A Fashion Legacy, was a way to honor the late princess on the 20th anniversary of her death.

Fans will see Elizabeth Debicki, who plays Princess Diana in season 5 of The Crown, wear a replica of the iconic little black dress. She was spotted filming Diana's 1994 gala arrival in November 2021.

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