December 5, 2021


Only The Finest Women

Flick and Feather: On Diana’s Hair

THIS IS AN ESSAY ABOUT Princess Diana’s hair, which I have by no means appreciated. I have constantly felt a frisson all around it. Princess’s Diana’s hair grows lush and thick and blond, all characteristics I am well prepared to locate attractive it is bobbed, and I often obtain a bob fetching. But Princess Diana’s flick-and-feather bob variations constantly go away me the opposite of fetched. Confronted with them I am unfetched, even resistant.

Specifically since of this anti-Diana hair sensation, I was thrilled to find that Kristen Stewart (who I like) would be actively playing Diana in a new motion picture. The frisson I truly feel about Diana’s hair, I was sure, would only amplify the drama of this girl hair spectacle. I was not incorrect.

It’s difficult to so vehemently dislike the hair of a woman who died so tragically. But in advance of her death, Princess Diana was one of the most powerfully emblematic white gals of my childhood as princess, in point, she occupied a person of the most emblematic of all white girl roles (that this part is raced is one thing all people living in the Meghan Markle period has to accept). So I imagine it’s legitimate to think about her hair, and what it taught me, about the especially 1980s princess powers of white womanhood and the price that is paid for them.

There are a ton of items to be stated about the results of Spencer and of Stewart how Stewart gives Pablo Larraín’s “fable primarily based on a legitimate tragedy” a rich backstory. In casting Stewart (and all the cultural associations that come with her) as Princess Diana, director Larraín brilliantly juxtaposes the complete Household of Windsor with the vampires of Twilight, yet another film in which Stewart’s character has a complex hunger issue related to the monstrosity of her in-guidelines. In other text, Spencer runs a variation on Twilight’s about-the-top rated observations about sex and domination and need. Spencer is about all of things far too, but in methods both far more and significantly less subtle. It displays Princess Diana reckoning with the degree to which she fell in appreciate with these kinds of dangerous electric power, or, alternately, was seduced or ensnared by it. The variation matters, she knows, but from in just the bars of her high-class prison, she appears unsure as to how.

A different matter about Spencer is that it revels in shut-up shots of Stewart’s beautiful not happy experience framed by Diana’s familiar, frissony, feathered bob. All these shots gave me ample time to contemplate what for me was the major drama: what could Spencer’s portrait of Diana’s electricity and jail and hunger educate me about why I have under no circumstances preferred about Princess Diana’s hair?


There’s a scene in Spencer — what follows are only the mildest of spoilers — when Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana sits with her younger boys in Sandringham Property and attempts to clarify what is occurring. Perplexing matters that fall underneath the heading “what is happening” variety from “why just can’t we open our offers on Christmas Working day like typical people” to “why is my mom so sad.” Diana explains both of those these items at after. It is like the verb tenses the boys master in school, she claims: this property has its own methods of verbs, of possible actions, and in this program “there is no future” tense what is additional, in this article, “the past and existing are the identical.” In this household, Diana clarifies, functioning her jaw furiously into her accent and her insight, every little thing is “all established as if everything’s by now took place.” For me, looking at in a matinee motion picture theater and striving to take notes while sipping a smuggled-in can of rose, this was a deeply fascinating moment. Diana has learned “GENRE!!!” I scrawled in all caps on my popcorn-smeared serviette.

Note that Diana below is unquestionably ideal. In genre, comparable matters occur in a identical way and in a similar order, so that every person can have very similar inner thoughts. The thoughts are equivalent to every person else’s thoughts and also to the feelings you’ve experienced just before. Princess Diana is a determine who moved via the environment interpellated regularly into genre. Her hair, hence, did too. But it does so strangely.

In Spencer, Diana is pressured into accomplishing a collection of rote actions so that everyone close to her can have the royal Christmas experience, which the servants in Spencer practically uniformly describe as “a charming bit of enjoyable.” Diana can pretty much barely carry herself to swallow this bullshit. There is no scene in the film of Diana looking through Jameson or Freud, so we can think possibly that these kinds of studying transpires offstage or that her media coaching led her to independently acquire a narrative concept of genre’s conservative unconscious. 

A weird issue about Spencer, from a hair experiments viewpoint, is that Princess Diana’s hair is rarely talked about at all. Her clothing, and the genre expectations all over them, get an monumental sum of interest. But her hair will come up only after, when Charles implies to her that she requires to hurry up and “have her hair established.” I have actually imagined a great deal about this line and its significance. Queen Elizabeth undoubtedly has her hair “established.” Does Diana, way too? Is that portion of her feather-bob management? The line matters because it displays that Charles associates Diana’s hair with his mother’s, even however Diana’s hair appears to be practically nothing like his mother’s. Charles is an idiot, is component of the issue. But probably he is not fully completely wrong about what’s happening with Princess Diana’s hair.

In Spencer, Diana runs and cries and vomits and drives rapidly and clambers by means of a dim discipline at night time and her flick-and-feather bob is hardly touched, it hardly moves. In this way, it certainly has been set. This will make it a bizarre healthy for the genres in which Princess Diana typically appears, which are, alternatingly “beautiful woman will become princess,” and  “beautiful woman breaks totally free from style of princess.” Spencer is the latter, which is partly why I loved it the thoughts of this style are some of my favorites. Anyway, in most stories of either genre, hair matters noticeably. So the #hairstudies section of me is really fascinated to see the stuckness of Diana’s unmoving hair. What is her hair carrying out there — by not performing anything at all — set between these two genres?


Princess Diana became a princess on Wednesday, July 29, 1981, when I was 5 several years outdated, so way after I had started my lifelong investigation into princess hair experiments. I had avidly consumed all the major texts: Sleeping Natural beauty, which experienced been rereleased by Disney in 1979, and Cinderella, which was rereleased in 1981, the similar 12 months as Diana obtained married. Foxy Robin Hood (with its carriage and King Richard wedding ceremony) would be rereleased in 1982. Any tiny 1980s lady in the globe of Disney’s orbit could learn the genre lesson that that the function of princess was the suitable one to play in the story of the joyful ending in simple fact, it is pretty much the only position for a lady in the story at all.

I do not think I watched Princess Diana’s wedding reside even though it happened, if that was even doable in rural Iowa in 1981. But I recall her confront and dress framed by the box of my tv screen — watching it on the news, on commercials on the news, on PBS. There was Diana with a carriage, Diana going for walks down the aisle, posing with her internet pages, waving from her balcony. Getting the ring that was its very own exclusive form of crown. I was thrilled, and also, about her hair, even then, involved.

Princess Diana acquired married in the complete most princessy costume I could have imagined. Anyone who has read through L.M. Montgomery’s Anne textbooks knows specifically how I keep on to feel about Diana’s puffed sleeves. The church, the blushing smile, the applauding witnesses — they ended up storybook, they were fairytale. What these adjectives indicate is that, like Cinderella or Sleeping Natural beauty, they made the style feeling of remaining timeless, virtually no cost of time. In Spencer, Diana laments dwelling in a earth the place “the earlier and present are the exact same,” which for her at that minute means that there is no hope for the future. But that is not what, as a small girl, I understood about the fairytale genre. Rather, what I thought, and what all the fairytale trappings of Diana’s marriage ceremony appeared to affirm, was that to be a princess is to be eternal — to be in the smiling, starring, purpose eternally. This is a lie, but it is a incredibly powerful a person.

In all of the fairytales I had noticed, long hair issues to getting the princess. Even Fox Maid Marian’s wimple, I assume you’d phone it, is a very long hair cipher. And my hair mattered to how I assumed about princesses. It was not blond, like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty’s or the well known girls in my elementary faculty, but my hair then was prolonged, and “golden brown” I appreciated to assume to myself. I really like remembering my mom brushing and braiding it, wrapping it all around my head, as she mentioned, “like a princess.”

But in Princess Diana’s marriage, in the middle of the silk taffeta and lace, among Diana’s blushing deal with and her billowing dress and interrupting the confluence between them, was…her hair, that feathered bob. Her hair created no crown at all. The gown and the smile were being storybook, but the haircut was historical past: authentic history, the sequence of interactions brought on by individuals seeking to relate to just about every other, not eternally, but in 1981 specifically.

Princess Diana’s shorter hair punctured the illusion of the eternal princess, even as she seemed to be holding on to that illusion, embodying it. This in-betweenness bothered me. It did so partly since I, a tiny white lady, liked the princess illusion for causes that were being selfish, the reverse of superior. But I had go through several stories far too about girls who lower their hair, to do good, or to get totally free. Probably that was what Diana needed. But what did liberty mean to her, if it meant nonetheless donning the same clothes, with the same persons, and the same costume?


Here’s an interesting detail about Princess Diana’s hair: when Diana was — as he later on wrote about it — “testing out” the journalist Andrew Morton to see if she could rely on him to produce her licensed biography, she requested him for assistance in transforming her hairdresser. The particular hairdresser was named Richard Dalton, and he was Diana’s hairdresser for most of 12 decades, starting off when she was 17.  “How very best,” Diana needed to know, “to dispense with his services tactfully and with no going to the newspapers to offer his story.” Morton gave her very good tips, and she adopted it, and currently if you google “Richard Dalton Princess Diana” you can discover glowing press accounts in areas like Town & Country about their superb marriage.

Morton suggests he did not thoroughly know at the time what was taking place or why his hairdresser aid signaled so appreciably to Diana that Morton was the just one who could reliably convey to her tale. But the explanation is distinct to me. Hair is narrative, Diana clearly knew, which means your hairdresser is your storyteller your biographer in a distinct variety. Sam McKnight, the new male, would give Diana her observed pixie reduce in 1991 presumably (#hairstudies) proper soon after the occasions of Spencer. This, as the internet will fortunately inform you, was a component of Diana’s “breaking totally free of princess genre” shift.

But as I’ve mentioned, her bobbed hair experienced never been typical princess it wasn’t very long and flowing the way each individual fairy tale told me princess hair need to be. Which will take me back to the dilemma: what did a princess indicate in 1981?

The 1980s had been a decade dominated politically by the conservative fiscal austerity of Reagan and Thatcher, by their mutual motivation to corporate deregulation, to the retraction of the welfare state and all its modes of treatment. The perfect of the eternal princess, the feelings the fairytale genre creates, was beneficial to this political software, simply because it made revanchist politics feel heartwarming and benevolent and unquestionable, alternatively than cruel and extractive and self-fascinated, which is what they in fact ended up. You may hope that, in provider of this political operation, Diana would expand the most princess-y hair attainable, genuinely flex up her thick flowing blond.

But I imagine there is a rationale why Diana couldn’t have that prolonged Disney-like hair. While a whole lot of folks experienced lengthy hair in the ’70s and early ’80s — and a whole lot of people folks certainly voted for Reagan and Thatcher — I do imagine it issues, or at minimum it mattered then to me, that a certain sort of very long flowing hair was powerfully attached to the counterculture, to feminism. Prolonged hair meant a thing, that is, to the men and women who were being advocating for the extremely modes of care that Reagan had retracted.  

To say this isn’t at all to say that all folks with long hair ended up feminist and surely not that prolonged-haired feminists were the ideal or most essential or most efficient feminists. Alternatively, I’m indicating that to the extent that extensive hair was a symbol of feminism — to the extent that white feminists made use of their hair to link themselves to an enduring and transhistorical plan of womanhood — Diana experienced a selection about what she could say with her hair tale. She could have extended hair, like the (white) princesses and the (white) feminists. Or she could slice her hair, and link the princess great to some thing else into some thing that appeared to make femininity into anything else.

11/9/1985 President Reagan dancing with Princess Diana at a evening meal for Prince Charles and Princess Diana of the United Kingdom in Cross Corridor

And this, of class, is what she chose, if “choosing” is how we can describe what she did. It would be heading too considerably to say that Diana’s quick hair signaled a freedom from feminism, but it did sign its length from particular forms of female traditions, even as she in other techniques amplified the femininity of her function. She was common, but in a new way.

Reagan was my president, in The us, and formally he had absolutely nothing to do with Princess Diana or her wedding ceremony gown or her hair. But synecdochically this limited-haired princess was ideal there, in the exact media sphere as Reagan and in the identical line of signifiers in truth, her smiling princess self was what the media of my childhood gave me as the point each individual minimal girl should really try out to be.

So it matters that, as a small white woman, as I was looking at the indications of how to be a lady, I noticed Princess Diana’s hair on a whole lot of other areas than Princess Diana. It was absorbed into the company rom coms of the ’80s, like Key of my Achievement and  Operating Girl, both equally of which worked various Cinderella tale angles to romanticize board rooms and business (and not, as 9 to 5 did, by giving them with working day cares and flex scheduling). Mary Lou Retton’s Olympic bowl cut reminded me of Princess Diana’s hair, as did the hair of most of the girls in The Massive Chill. This was a film about the abandonment of the ideals of the ’60s, and their hair showed it.

When I seem at all these quick haired white girls of my girlhood, I see them employing their hair to do a type of genre work, a mixing of the princess style and the obtaining free genre, in a protection of a sort of “freedom” that feels to me specific and traditionally enthusiastic — and not one that was inspired for the great of any kind of persons, notably gals, irrespective of the fantasy of “the people’s princess.” This femininity would still be passionate and self-sacrificial and enduring, but it would also be nationalist, individualistic, and privatized.

Now, hold in intellect that at the time Diana and her hair were being dancing with Reagan, I was just a very little female: I never know what it was like for Diana or any of the females who appeared to me to have embraced her hair.  I really don’t know what it was like to are living by way of the ’60s and ’70s as a lady and then all of a sudden Reagan is elected and Diana is topped, and your hair options adjust. I know that when it will come to the genres of white womanhood, there are no pure options. I never consider it would essentially be “better” if Princess Diana or everyone else — Melanie Griffith, say, in Working Girl — had held their long. But it even now felt to me as a kid in Lamoni, Iowa, viewing Melanie Griffith make clear to her best buddy why her prolonged hair experienced to go, that anything in addition to the hair had been shed.


Another person not long ago asked me about Princess Diana’s hair and I said, with utter seriousness, “It has troubled me my whole lifestyle.” Partly this is mainly because, soon soon after Princess Diana got married, my moms and dads took me to have my have hair reduce. This was a good final decision on their aspect for a lot of reasons: they lower my hair because my mom was heading again to university, and my father, would be house by yourself with both equally youngsters:  he could consider care of me and my very little brother by himself, but not my hair much too. This was a very good, feminist, compromise.

But there’s another attainable earth exactly where they didn’t have to make this compromise: a world wherever there was far better, free of charge childcare exactly where there have been versatile operate several hours and less expensive housing and more affordable schools. There is also a environment in which Diana herself obtained greater possibilities — and I wish that for her, certainly. I would like all of us lived in a earth wherever white women did not get the job done so regularly for our individual gain, didn’t throw ourselves from the momentum of development for people today additional generally didn’t then commit so significantly of our energy freeing ourselves from the quite constructions we served establish. I desire I put in less electricity banging from these buildings myself.

I believe, perhaps, that what I don’t like about Princess Diana’s hair is the distinction concerning the thickness and the thinness, the way the feathering of her hair attracts notice to the finishes exactly where the hair has been lower how it highlights the scene of its have removal. It seems perpetually just brushed, and yet frequently also so shellacked it cannot in fact be touched. I loathe how the feathering of Princess Diana’s hair makes me assume about what could have taken flight and has rather been taken, or presented, away.