When looking back at Princess Diana’s life — her rise to royalty, adoring fans, struggle, scandal, and tragedy—it’s no wonder she was deemed the People’s Princess. She navigated her ups and downs with the whole world watching, somehow making royalty feel relatable. Interviews, biographies, and documentaries have recounted the intimate yet widely-shared details of Diana’s story: how she wound up marrying Charles in the first place, her experience an outsider in an stiff and insular family, raising two boys in the public eye, and untangling the most talked about marriage as the most photographed woman in the world. So, how did she maintain any sense of dignity and privacy? While wardrobe played a role in Diana’s resilience, there was one sartorial shield that seemed to protect the princess while in the spotlight: her sunglasses.
Although Diana’s revenge dress, sheep sweater, and summer wardrobe are the most covered corners of her closet, her collection of sunglasses were the more subtle MVP. From the early ’80s until her final summer in 1997 spent enjoying herself in the south of France, Diana was often photographed from behind her own lenses, her most functional accessory. In the trailer for season six: part one of The Crown—which comes out November 16 and focuses heavily on the paparazzi’s constant pursuit of Diana and the toll it took on the royal—we see Elizabeth Debicki slip on her sunglasses as a way to protect herself from the cameras. That seems to be the case in real life as well. If the everyday celebrity wears shades to feel less vulnerable to the prying eyes of photographers and fans, then Princess Diana, one of the world’s most famous individuals, is a case study in the sunglasses-as-a-shield metaphor. And in true Lady Di form, she made a fashion moment out of her shades, too.
One of the first times Princess Diana was photographed wearing sunglasses was days before her wedding, in the summer of 1981, when she wore her signature oversize brown aviators with a pair of pastel yellow overalls to a polo match. Ironically, Diana wore the sunglasses on her head for much of the day, perhaps because she didn’t yet have to shield her face from hordes of photographers. The oversize aviators quickly became part of the princess’s signature style.