Princess Diana: Dresses that tell a story

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Versace and the Queen of Hearts

Princess Diana wore a legendary Versace dress for a photo shoot in 1991, pictured here at the "Diana: Her Fashion Story" exhibition in Kensington Palace. At an auction in 2015 the elaborate gown, said to have been Gianni Versace's first creation for Lady Di, fetched a record $200,000 (about 190,000 euros at the time). Versace and the princess were close friends until his death in July 1997.

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Stages of life

Diana's more romantic look in the 1980s made way for sleek designer dresses in the 1990s, which the princess learned to use as "tools of diplomacy." When her marriage began to fail, her wardrobe increasingly communicated independence and power.

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Humble beginnings

Young Lady Diana Spencer wasn't at all familiar with the world of designer fashion. All she owned was a dress, a blouse and a pair of good shoes, so she borrowed clothes from her friends. Diana wore this pale pink blouse for her official engagement portrait to Prince Charles in 1981, and the brown tweed outfit for her honeymoon at Balmoral Castle, in Scotland.

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Honeymoon with Charles

At first, Diana was only the woman at Charles' side. It took a while before the 20-year-old adjusted to her new role after her wedding in 1981. But she later became more self-confident and independent, and that began to reflect in the clothes she wore.

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Iconic wardrobe

Over the years, Diana increasingly used clothing to make a diplomatic statement. A silk dress for a visit in Saudi Arabia (at left) was embroidered with gold falcons, the national symbol of the oil state.

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Dancing with Travolta

This Victor Edelstein gown is one of the highlights of the exhibition at Kensington Palace. Diana wore the midnight blue velvet evening gown at a White House gala dinner in 1985, where she famously danced with actor John Travolta. She wore the Travolta dress again two years later on a state visit with Charles to Bonn, still the German capital at the time.

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Power dressing

Over the years, Diana increasingly took control of how she was represented, "intelligently communicating through her clothes," according to the exhibition. Her favorite designer was Catherine Walker, who outfitted the princess with elegant gowns. Later, Diana wore Walker's exquisitely tailored suits at daytime charity events like lunch at the Savoy Hotel or hospital visits with HIV/AIDS patients.

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Most photographed woman in the world

Diana's interactions with the press characterized the classic love-hate relationship. Sometimes she would complain about pushy photographers, but then she would deliberately leak her indiscretions to the media. An entire industry formed around the princess, scrounging for exclusive snapshots or alleged "insider information."

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The people's princess

Diana's separation from Charles was announced in 1992, and the 1990s showed a marked change in the princess' clothing style to more pragmatic "work clothes." The Princess of Wales was turning into the "People's Princess," the term used by then Prime Minister Tony Blair after her death in August 1997.

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Fashion legacy

At the very end of the exhibition, visitors can marvel at five of Princess Diana's most stunning evening gowns. She wore them for a photo shoot with star photographer Mario Testino. Photos on the walls show a radiant, self-confident Diana who seems to be comfortable with her place in life. The exhibition is ongoing through February 2018.

Princess Diana's dresses still fetch top sums at auctions, even 20 years after her death. An exhibition at Kensington Palace, her long-time home, will give the public a close-up look at these extraordinary outfits.