In Luella Bartley’s book Luella’s Guide to English Style the author and designer sings the praises of the 80s Sloane Ranger, as “personified” by Diana, in a chapter titled Tribes of Britannia: “My Sloane is the 80s Sloane,” Bartley writes. “The rigidity of her uniform and the rules by which she lives deserve to be preserved. Sloanes wear red, white and blue to fly the flag, announce their loyalties, and stick to what they know. Blue is regimental, nautical, and goes with everything. Red is jolly. White is the colour of school shirts and the snow at Verbier.”
And the other thing about Sloanes, according to Bartley’s book? “They are good at fun… practical jokes, fancy-dress balls and silly nicknames. What they hate is anyone trying to be clever. They are avowedly anti-intellectual and can’t abide anyone taking him/herself too seriously.” In her red-and-white, “jolly” and cartoonish sheep jumper, with white Peter-Pan blouse and navy jeans – could early 80s Diana at the polo have been any more quintessentially Sloaney?
A sense of mischief
Yet although in 1981 Diana was neither an outsider nor much of a rebel, over the following years, according to Eleri Lynn, she did begin to enjoy surprising people with her fashion choices. The sheep jumper was an early indication of this “mischievousness”, as Lynn calls it. “I can’t comment on what she was thinking. But couturiers have described how she did like to be subversive. She did enjoy the idea of surprising people, and dressing with little twists, or something unconventional – for example wearing mismatching evening gloves, one red and one black, wearing a tuxedo trouser suit, patterned tights. Or wearing black, which royal protocol says is only for mourning and funerals. She loved it. And she was totally responsible for her clothes and if she didn’t like it, she wouldn’t wear it. It was always her choice.”
Lynn points to another iconic piece of knitwear – the bright-pink llama-themed jumper she wore at Balmoral just before the wedding. “She loved ‘country-house dressing’ but with a twist – so she wore the fun pink jumper with classic jodhpurs or trousers tucked into her Hunter wellies, or the fantastic tweed bomber jacker she wore, converting a country wardrobe classic with a contemporary youthful twist.”
The way in which Diana became more and more adept at her messaging through fashion has been well documented. In the exhibition Diana: Her Fashion Story, her journey from ingenue to powerful communicator was explored. Lynn, who curated the exhibition, says that, with the help of couturiers, “a new world opened up for her, where fashion could be a pivotal communicator. And she had a lot of fun with it. She began to realise, after the wedding [in 1982], the impact she was having, and she retained the playfulness and subversiveness, knowingly pushing the boundaries”.