This week, the little black dress which launched Diana Princess of Wales as the most famous and glamorous royal of all, sold for £192,000. Adele Baxby takes a closer look at the million dollar dress and other iconic 20th century gowns.

The dress in question was designed by Elizabeth and David Emanuel who went on to create the princess’ wedding dress. The black ball gown, with its racy neckline and relatively simple cut had been languishing in the designer couple’s garage in a bin bag and was expected to sell for just £50,000 – I say just, that amount of money could buy two Audis or two nights on Richard Branson’s private island.

A dress has the power above all other garment to gain ‘iconic’ status and command an astronomical price tag. A recent survey published by cited Geri Halliwell’s union jack dress as the most iconic dress from the past fifty years. The other modern dresses on the list included one held together by giant safety pins and another festooned with feathers and a fat swan’s head.

Sure, you know exactly which dresses I’m talking about, but they’re both rather ridiculous. Memorable, but not beautiful or wearable by any means. Geri’s dress was a tea towel sewed on to a top, for Pete’s sake!

The two classics featured on the list were, of course, Marilyn’s white halter-neck frock from The Seven Year Itch(1955) and Audrey’s black Givenchy number from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Looking at these two dresses made me realise that pretty much every dress I have ever worn when I wanted to look my absolute best was based, however roughly, on either of these two dresses, either short and swishy or a fail-safe LBD.

Marilyn’s dress has been valued at close to a million and is owned by the partner of the designer William Travilla who died in 1990. A close friend of Marilyn’s, he was very protective over her dresses. He also owns the prototype of the pink silk dress Marilyn wore to sing ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’, a copy of which – made for the film but never worn – recently sold for £170,000.

Audrey’s dress recently beat off competition from Ursula’s bikini in Dr No and Sandy’s leather pants to be crowned the best screen outfit of all time.

But what makes a dress go from awesome to iconic? I think it can be split into two categories – outrageous or classic. So, unless you want to wear a coat with stuffed animals sewn into the hem or a plate of food as a hat, I suggest you check out these tips and, who knows, in fifty years your dress could be sold for £192,000.

After all, Diana was a nursery teacher and Hurley was just Hugh Grant’s girlfriend before their dresses made them famous.

Tips to pick your own iconic vintage dress

• Pick a simple shape to flatter your figure, sounds obvious but honestly, it works. Marilyn enhanced her curves with a halter-neck, Audrey showed off her shoulders

• Go for a block colour – prints and patterns can look much more dated

• Match with timeless accessories, pearls or a string of vintage chains and charms

• Don’t be afraid to invest a bit more money in your dress and take care of it as though it’s going to last forever

• Visit The Frock for inspiration, this site has some incredible vintage yet timeless dresses as well as garments actually worn by Sophia Loren and Eva Gabor

One Response

  1. Andrew Hansford

    Good morning.
    Lovely article. However if at all possible could you remove a couple of things.
    My name is Andrew and I am the representative to the Travilla Estate.
    There is no dress in the collection that is valued at over a million. Plus we did not own the Pink DIamonds dress that went up for auction. We have the prototype that will never be sold. The version sold was one of many that was created for the movied yet never used.

    Thank you very much