Yes, the ghost of Diana past was a weird move — especially for a show so concerned with historical accuracy that it styled the princess in hyper-realistic reproductions of her famous swimsuits, gowns, puffer coats and sweatshirts before her death. Yet the posthumous visit offered the show’s creative team the rare opportunity to imagine Diana in a setting where she never actually was, in an outfit based on nothing she wore in real life. An opportunity, in other words, to depict Diana not as she was on any one given day, but as the public might remember her.
She wears a form-fitting, sleeveless black turtleneck and a pair of gold earrings when she suddenly appears before Charles as he travels alone after her death, and when she appears later in the queen’s private chambers. Her hair is in its signature voluminous blonde pixie.
The clingy sleeveless turtleneck, while understated, is a deceptively tricky garment: Despite its prim and elegant neckline, it’s lent a degree of daring irreverence by its curve-accentuating silhouette and abject impracticality (what kind of climate demands neck warmth and tank-top ventilation at the same time?). Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, some royal observers might notice, has also worn black sleeveless turtlenecks often in recent years, and especially since “stepping back” from her in-laws’ lifestyle in 2020. She even wore one on the cover of New York Magazine last fall.
Dan Jones and Eloise Moran, the authors of “Diana: Style Icon” and “The Lady Di Look Book,” respectively, saw the show’s posthumous Diana and were immediately reminded of portraits by French photographer Patrick Demarchelier that were published in the December 1991 issue of British Vogue. Demarchelier’s photographed the Princess of Wales relaxed and smiling, in a black, long-sleeved turtleneck and black pants.
Unlike some of the boxier, more matronly styles Diana wore in the early years of her turbulent marriage to Charles, the sleek look “was this modern silhouette, moving away from the silhouettes that she wore in the ’80s,” Moran says. The portraits helped publicly announce “a new era” for Diana, who would officially separate from Charles the following year; a “stripped back and simple” look that would match the more independent, outspoken lifestyle she would adopt in the 1990s.
Moran also pointed out to The Washington Post last year that it was unusual for royals at the time to wear black in non-funeral settings or don sleeveless, muscle-baring silhouettes. Both styles became beloved staples for Diana’s after her separation.
Jones noted that the on-screen ensemble also shared some aesthetic similarities to portraits shot by Mario Testino and published in Vanity Fair just a few months before Diana’s death in 1997. “It was pegged to Diana’s sale of all her old dresses — a sort of fire sale of her old life, so she could look ahead to her new one, perhaps with Dodi Fayed,” Jones says. “There’s a real sense of freedom in these shots.”
Despite the imaginary Diana outfit’s resemblance to real styles, the show’s costume designers, Amy Roberts and Sidonie Roberts, told The Post that they were mostly aiming for a look that wouldn’t distract from the surprising fact of the character’s appearance on screen.
“We thought quite long and hard about this, and we felt it should be the most simple, direct look,” Amy says.
“The sleeveless turtleneck was a very known silhouette of Diana’s,” Sidonie adds. (Indeed, Diana also wears one in a pivotal Season 5 scene where she and Charles perform a sort of “autopsy” on their marriage and where it went wrong.)
The designers chose black, however, because “it’s a conversation that the queen and Charles are having in their heads, so in a way, you don’t want color,” Amy says. “So that it doesn’t — I hope — interfere with what are very, very moving scenes.”
“When somebody passes and you have conversations with them in your head, you don’t always envision them [fully]. You’re thinking about how they talk and what they’re saying,” Sidonie adds. “So that’s exactly what we’re silhouetting, the face.” (The same reasoning applied, both costume designers said, to the outfit that a ghost Fayed wears in a vision imagined by his father. His black blazer and collarless shirt are a “soft, stylized” colorless play on the sorts of clothes he wears in his short arc on the show.)
Still, despite the fact that Diana’s afterlife presence is only fleeting — and only seen from the shoulders up — the costumers considered it important that the whole look be quintessentially, unmistakably one Diana could have worn in the years just before her death. So the bottom half of the outfit, Sidonie explains, consisted of “a pair of ’90s black jeans, a black Ferragamo belt and a black pair of leather Tod’s.”
“It’s as important what you don’t see as what you do. That layering is very important, for the actors as well,” Amy says. “What you don’t see still needs to be absolutely right.”