Princess Diana Hair Evolution: Feathered Shags, Sleek Pixie Cuts, and More

“Don’t mind me, I’m just over here wondering if I can pull off early Princess Diana hair,” wrote one Twitter user, joining a chorus of voices sounding off on the late royal’s signature crop while bingeing the new season of The Crown last year. The historical drama’s latest installment inspired a new wave of frenzy around the Princess of Wales’s singular style—her feathered shag in particular. And as Kristen Stewart steps into the role of Diana in Spencer, which hits theaters today, the mania around her famed coif continues. 

If you dip into the archives, it’s clear Princess Di had much to offer by way of hair inspiration, and was ultimately a study in the power of a life-changing cut. While a young Lady Diana Spencer once embraced long, pin-straight flaxen lengths, when she entered the public eye at 19 she debuted what would become The Lady Diana Haircut, a youthful riff on Farrah Fawcett’s winged hair with a cascade of cropped, cheekbone-cutting and chin-grazing layers. The ’80s saw her oscillating between different iterations of her hallmark look with varying amounts of va-va-voom volume, as well as dramatic accessories, such as sparkling brooches, decorative florals, and, of course, diamond tiaras. There was but one exception: In 1984, she let her lengths grow just long enough to smooth them back with a preppy Sloane Ranger hair comb, her hair parted deep to one side in true ’40s-meets-’80s fashion. Needless to say, she inspired thousands, if not millions of women across the globe to embrace abbreviated cuts with soft, sideswept bangs worn loose or teased up with blasts of Aqua Net to gravity-defying effect.

But it was in the early ’90s that Princess Diana hit her stride in more ways than one. When she met hairstylist Sam McKnight on a Vogue photo shoot in 1991, she asked him, “What would you do to my hair if you could do anything you wanted?” To which McKnight, who could sense she wanted a change, answered, “I’d just cut it all off and start again.” And that’s what he did. Princess Diana’s hair was shorn into a pixie cut then and there. “When I met Diana, things were changing,” explains McKnight. “We were moving on from the ’80s romantic frills and going much sleeker with short, sharp hair to wear with Chanel and Versace suits of the time. It was all about the power woman look.”

As evidenced by what followed, it was ultimately a story of liberation. In the 2017 documentary Diana In Her Own Words, which features a series of interviews recorded by the princess herself, she’s asked by a friend, “What have been the turning moments in life that turned you from victim to victor?” She pauses, then replies: “I suppose last summer when Sam cut my hair differently, it let out something quite different.” As history reminds us, Princess Diana, with her sharp, close-cropped hair, went on to let journalist Andrew Morton tell her side of the story in the 1992 tell-all Diana: Her True Story, which served as a catalyst for her separation and ultimate divorce with Prince Charles, a long overdue parting of ways with the royal family that allowed her to come into her own as a leader and humanitarian.

When McKnight learned that he’d had a hand in helping Princess Diana brace herself for what was next, he was overcome with emotion. To him, it was a moving example of how a haircut can help usher in a new chapter. “It hit home because it shows the power of hair for not just a celebrity or a royal, but for anyone. Hair is so powerful.”

As many of us crave change amid ongoing uncertainty, one has to wonder if Princess Diana’s crop, in any of its glorious forms, is primed for a comeback? It’s too soon to tell, but at the very least, it’s making the case for chopping off the old and starting anew in some shape or form. “There’s a huge appetite for something different right now,” says McKnight, emphasizing the simple truth: “It’s hair—it grows back!” Here, a retrospective of Princess Diana’s most memorable hair moments.

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