This Is What Princess Diana Secretly Called Her Haters
It might insult Kate Middleton today.
Before Princess Diana married Prince Charles, she happily embraced being called a "Sloane Ranger" or a "Sloanie"—and even graced the cover of The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook and was awarded the title of "Super Sloane."
At the time, the term "Sloane Ranger" referred to young, well-bred upper or upper-middle class Londoners who typically lived in Chelsea, near Sloane Square. They went to "the right" schools, came from "the right families" and packed up their Hunter wellies and Barbour jackets when they decamped for their country houses for the weekend. Lady Diana Spencer always dressed the part in frilly blouses worn with cardigans and long pleated skirts accessorized with pearls and scarves tied about the neck.
When Diana became Princess of Wales everything changed—including her look. It wasn't long before Diana, with the help of the editor of British Vogue at the time, Anna Harvey, evolved from "Shy Di" to the unofficial ambassador of British fashion. And of course, it was the eighties with all the glitz and glamour that came with it. Still very much a Sloane by day, albeit with a much more extensive and expensive wardrobe, Diana began wearing glittering evening gowns by British designers including Bruce Oldfield, who was responsible for some of her most glamorous looks during that time—including a silver gown that sparked a firestorm of media attention.
"She liked sexy clothes," the designer told me when I interviewed him for my book, Diana: The Secrets of Her Style. "She wore that dress in 1985 when she was my date for Dr. Bernado's (a benefit for the orphanage where Oldfield grew up). There were other guests there that night, including Joan Collins. Diana looked like a movie star."
When the photos of Diana in Oldfield's dress landed her on the front page of every newspaper in Britain, there were women who once happily considered Diana part of the Sloane brigade now criticizing her for being too flashy. She was dubbed "Dynasty-Di," named after the nighttime soap opera whose cast included Collins that was very popular at the time.
At the time, no one knew just how much Diana was struggling and took the criticism very much to heart as she read every story about her that appeared in the papers. She was stung by the comments that implied she was too showy as she was still navigating the royal dress code and came up with her own pithy put-down that she privately called her haters.
She called them "the velvet headbands."
Diana coined the phrase referring to women whose dowdy style often included the outdated hair accessory. (Ironically, they've come back into fashion again thanks to Kate Middleton).
"She'd say, 'Oh, those velvet headbands are at it again,' when she's find out about something that had been written or said about her, " a friend of Diana's told me. "They were grown women who still dressed like school girls. They never changed. Diana had become a beautiful, stylish princess and that threatened them." For more on Princess Diana, see Why She Never Changed Her Hairstyle Around the Queen.
Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.
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