Duchess Kate

Forever fashionable: Princess Diana's style legacy lives on

Aug. 30, 2012 at 3:24 PM ET

By Rachel Elbaum, TODAY contributor

Fifteen years after her death in a horrific Paris car crash, Princess Diana’s enduring appeal in the world of fashion lives on. In 1981, she debuted on the world stage as the shy 19-year-old fiancé of Prince Charles, but went on to make a name for herself as one of the world’s most influential women, in the worlds of both philanthropy and fashion.

Diana’s fashions were chronicled extensively in the press of the time, just like Duchess Kate’s are today.  But her own flair for fashion was fully revealed in the years after her marriage dissolved. The shy teen disappeared and a confident, sophisticated woman took her place, with a closet of fashion-forward designer clothing to match.

Though Diana’s looks were always elegant, they were cutting-edge enough to embrace trends that today’s woman is still happy to wear. As Friday is the 15th anniversary of her death, we celebrate Diana’s beautiful life and her unique fashion legacy:

Tim Graham / Getty Images /
Accompanied by her sons, Princes Harry and William, Diana attends a special service for fire brigade veterans at St. Paul's Cathedral in 1990.

Two-tone

While the shoulder pads Diana sported might seem outdated, this suit’s bold, two-tone theme still resonates today. Color-blocking can be found everywhere, from the runway to retail stores. Even the pastel colors of this suit are still a fashion win. Here, Diana wears a suit by one of her favorite designers, Catherine Walker, to a special service at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral for fire department veterans, accompanied by her two sons, Princes William and Harry.

Georges De Keerle / Getty Images /
Princess Diana, looking chic and charming in Florence in April 1985.

Menswear

Collars of all types are all over today’s fashion pages, and can be found on celebrities from Kim Kardashian to Drew Barrymore. But nearly three decades ago, it was Princess Diana who rocked this chic, menswear-inspired look. The princess’ everlasting femininity personalized this trend, giving her a fashionable edge. Here, her black masculine bow tie is contrasted with a feminine white skirt suit, designed by Jasper Conran, that she wore during a 1985 visit to Florence, Italy.

Jayne Fincher / Getty Images /
Diana, wearing a Catherine Walker suit and a hat by Graham Smith at Kangol, visits Sandhurst Royal Military Academy in Surrey, England in April 1987.

Military-style

Princess Diana chose to wear a military-themed suit on a visit to Sandhurst, the elite military academy her son Harry later attended. The white jacket, decorated with gold rope and buttons, was created by her pet designer Catherine Walker. Military style is a tremendous inspiration for designers, and just last June, the Duchess of Cambridge wore a military-inspired dress to present medals to members of the Irish Guard with her husband, Prince William.

Anwar Hussein / WireImage /
Blue stunner: Dressed in Versace, Diana attends a benefit dinner in Oct. 1996 in Sydney, Australia.

One-shoulder

While Princess Diana didn’t start this trend, it’s a look that has become inextricably linked to her. She wore the look to event after event, showing off her athletic, well-toned arms. The one-shoulder dress can still be regularly found on the red carpet, while even one-shoulder casual shirts are popular in stores today. Here Diana wears a turquoise silk dress by Versace to a benefit dinner in Sydney in October 1996.

WireImage /
Perfectly plaid: Diana smiles demurely at the Braemar Highland Games in Sept. 1982 in Scotland.

Plaid

Princess Diana wore this plaid dress to the Braemar Highland Games in Scotland in September 1982, but you don’t have to be in Scotland – or the 1980s – to embrace this timeless style. Although plaid as a trend seemed to reach its peak in the 1990s, it’s still very much in fashion. Burberry classic check has never gone out of favor, while other designers regularly turn out plaid shirts, skirts and embellishments. And these days tartan isn’t just for winter or wool; the pattern is often printed on silk, chiffon and other light fabrics.

Tim Graham / Getty Images /
Diana and Charles, enjoying a good laugh on board a royal flight to Australia.

Monochromatic nude

Understatement is always in style, as Diana knew well. Monochromatic outfits and nude-colored clothing were everywhere this past season, while nude shoes are all the rage and match outfits of every color. This versatile color is a great choice for any season, from winter to summer. Diana, pictured here with her husband and staff, wore this tan dress during her first tour of Australia, in 1983, when Prince William was just a year old. Not surprisingly, this color is also a favorite of Diana’s daughter-in-law, Catherine. Most recently, she was wore a nude lace dress by Alexander McQueen to the queen’s Jubilee celebrations.

Stefan Rousseau / AP /
Princess Diana and her butler, Paul Burrell, rear left, meeting Bosnian Serbs and Muslims affected by land mines near Tuzla, Bosnia.

The classic: White shirt & jeans

In her downtime, Diana ditched designer dresses for a more casual look. A white shirt and jeans can be dressed up or down, and is favored by fashionistas and the girl on the street alike. Here she is pictured in August 1987, meeting Bosnian Serbs and Muslims affected by land mines near Tuzla, Bosnia.

What's your favorite Diana style? Let us know!

Rachel Elbaum is a TODAY contributor and fan of white shirts and jeans in any era.

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