Princess Diana's Arbeid dress will be sold by Sotheby's alongside her iconic Black Sheep wool sweater during the auction house's Fashion Icons sale happening this fall. The black and white gown, which is estimated to fetch up to $80,000-$120,000, made headlines when the royal first wore it, but not for the reasons one might initially think.
In 1985, Princess Diana wore the dress to Prince Edward's 21st birthday party. The themed event titled "A Midsummer Night's Ball" was held at Windsor Castle on June 22, 1985. "Her clothes, both timeless, yet fashion-forward, were a reflection of her effortless grace and charm," Cynthia Houlton, Sotheby’s Global Head of Fashion & Accessories tells T&C. "Her wardrobe often pushed the boundaries of societal norms at the time and had a unique way of transcending her personality through to the public."
Little did Princess Diana know that her decision to wear this dress for the evening would be the subject of a major fashion faux pas. James Ogilvy, Prince Edward's cousin, invited a woman named Natasha Fairweather to the party two months before the official party invitations went out. In an interview she gave two years ago, she notes how "it wasn't really my world, [so] it was very nice of him to ask me." The pressure to dress well was on, especially with the several members of the Royal Family, including the Queen herself, planning to attend.
That night, Fairweather and Princess Diana unknowingly decided to wear the same Arbeid dress. At the party, one of Fairweather's friends quickly notified her that they had seen the Princess in the same dress. Fairweather was unsure of such dress code etiquette and ran into the Queen Mother in a drawing room and asked for advice. The Queen Mother replied with, "That's absolutely fine; you stay and enjoy yourself." Fairweather did just that and even danced closer to Princess Diana when she saw that she and King Charles were on the dance floor together. Headlines of the news such as "Di-Dentical" and "Dishy Natasha" came out the next day. Some of Fairweather's friends were even approached by the paparazzi who offered financial compensation to disclose her address to them.
Despite the headlines, Princess Diana wore the dress for a second time on December 12 of that year to the Mansion House for the Worshipful Company of Fan Makers Banquet. "I think it’s also important to note that Diana wore this dress twice in public," Houlton says. "She certainly didn’t have to wear gowns more than once, so the fact that she chose to do so just shows that she loved this dress."
The sale will take place from August 31, 2023 to September 14, 2023. To enroll or find more information, please visit sothebys.com.
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