The real story behind Princess Diana's early 90s short haircut

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

Many of us are familiar with the—and we hesitate before using this word, but we're going to go ahead with it anyway—iconic 1991 shot of Princess Diana, chin resting on her folded-over hands, wearing a black turtleneck, hair chopped short.

And thanks to hairstylist Sam McKnight, who has a new book and exhibition out, we now have some of the backstory about what led to that dramatic stylistic switch.

McKnight recounts, to the Daily Mail, that his first time working with the princess was in 1990, when she was brought in to be photographed by Patrick Demarchelier (McKnight had guessed beforehand they'd be photographing Margaret Thatcher when he heard they were "shooting someone important for Vogue"). For that shoot, he used some hairstyling trickery—"using hair grips to tuck her shoulder-length hair under the tiara"—to make it look like she had short hair.

Princess Diana, Hair by Sam McKnight, for vogue

Related: Remembering Princess Diana's Glamorous Style

Diana was evidently quite pleased with the look as, after the shoot, McKnight says that she asked him, "What would you do with my hair if I gave you free rein?" He responded, "I would cut it all off," and, as McKnight puts it, "She was convinced immediately." The rest, as they say, was . . . a famous haircut.

Princess Diana's famous haircut on the cover of Vogue

McKnight explains that it was "one of the cuts that women suddenly wanted," as it popped up "everywhere—on the High Street, on newsreaders." He hypothesizes that the popularity was related to its contrast to the "big 80s hair," representing a "sportier, more androgynous look," but one that was "still hugely feminine."

McKnight went on to work closely with Diana ("I saw Diana every week when I was in London"). During one meeting with Linda Evangelista and Vogue editor Liz Tilberis, McKnight told them about a shoot he had done earlier in the week with Diana and Demarchelier, and imparted that one picture in particular "would make a great Vogue cover." And, yep, you guessed it: it's the black turtleneck shot, which ran as the cover of British Vogue in December 1991. And McKnight shares one final, special detail about the image: "She had just stopped biting her nails and was so proud of how they looked."

More from Vanity Fair:
Kate Middleton's Best Looks of 2016
Annie Leibovitz's Intimate Portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family
Prince Harry's Best Style Moments

Photo credit: Julian Parker/UK Press/Getty Images

See Princess Diana's style transformation through the years:
41 PHOTOS
Princess Diana Style Transformation
See Gallery
Princess Diana Style Transformation

1962

Lady Diana Spencer, later the wife of Prince Charles, on her first birthday at Park House, Sandringham.

1963

A very young Diana in a fancy pram.

1963

Lady Di at age 2.

1965

Young Lady Diana in a buttoned up dark coat.

1969

Lady Diana at age 8, wearing a matching dress and headband.

1970

Diana on holiday with her family, causal in a sweater and jeans.

1971

Diana let her hair grow long during her youth, here age 10 in a wide-brimmed black hat.

1980

Diana always had a passion for children, here at 19 working as a Nursery Assistant at a Kindergarten school.

1981

Diana and Charles pose on the day of their engagement, showing off her diamond and sapphire engagement ring.

1981

Diana was stunning on her wedding day, with the most glamorous dress and bouquet -- truly fit for a Princess.

1981

The royal couple during their honeymoon in Scotland.

1981

Diana attended an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in a dress designed by Bellville Sassoon.

1982

Princess Diana, pregnant and glowing at a Polo match in Windsor.

1982

The Prince and Princess visit Wales, Diana wearing a suede beret by John Boyd and a coatdress by Arabella Pollen.

1983

Diana was a vision in yellow as she and Charles visited a school in Alice Springs, Australia.

1983

We're loving the pops of pink in Diana's outfit, here while watching Charles play Polo.

1984

Diana talks with Prince Charles, who is on horseback, at a Polo match.

1984

Diana is pretty in pink while attending the ballet Swan Lake.

1985

Diana and a tiny Prince William leaving the Royal Yacht, the Princess in a belted plaid jacket.

1985

Diana laughs with Nancy Reagan, the two ladies looking radiant in hues of red and white.

1986

Diana rests her chin in her hands on the steps of her home at Highgrove.

1986

Diana at a desert picnic in Saudi Arabia, wearing a purple and white outfit by Catherine Walker.

1987

Diana attended Cannes Film Festival, wearing a stunning ice blue gown by Catherine Walker.

1987

Diana was stunning at an evening function during a visit to Germany, wearing a gown by Victor Edelstein.

1988

Princess Diana during a visit to Melbourne.

1988

Diana and Wills at a polo club, the Princess casually dressed in a blazer with the British Lung Foundation logo on the front of her t-shirt.

1989

Diana looked radiant in red and purple while in Hong Kong, the outfit designed by Catherine Walker.

1989

During her visit to Hong Kong, Diana wore this stunning tiara and white dress, later known as the "Elvis Dress."

1990

The Princess of Wales in mint on an official visit to Hungary.

1990

Diana and her boys, attending a church service.  Diana wore a pink and purple suit by Catherine Walker.

1991

Diana wears her favorite designer once again, Catherine Walker, during an official visit in Brazil.

1991

Diana wore this white dress and black jacket designed by Catherine Walker during a visit to Salisbury.

1992

Diana was stunning at a banquet in Seoul, wearing the Spencer family tiara and a gown by Catherine Walker.

1993

Diana looked lovely in this pastel suit, crouching down to speak with a young boy.

1994

Lord Palumbo greets Princess Diana, wearing a short black cocktail dress designed by Christina Stambolian, as she atttends a gala.

1995

Diana visited army barracks, wearing a Versace suit and a hat by Philip Somerville.

1996

The Princess of Wales was gorgeous in this royal purple gown during a visit to Chicago.

1996

Diana visited Washington, dazzling the entire country in this lovely white gown.

1997

Diana was lovely in this pale blue cocktail dress by Catherine Walker, attending a charity reception.

1997

Diana, Princess of Wales, was radiant in red during another visit to Washington, D.C.

of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Read Full Story

From Our Partners