The Washington Post

Princess Diana’s State Dinner dress up for auction

The shot is legendary for royal enthusiasts and anyone who was around Washington in 1985. A radiant princess, smiling as the fluted part of her trumpet-style gown swirls, arm extended away from a baby-faced John Travolta.

Actor John Travolta dances with PrincessDiana at a 1985 White House dinner. (Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)

The midnight blue velvet dress Princess Diana wore to the White House dinner will be auctioned in London this March. It is expected to bring in up to 300,000 pounds, the Associated Press reports.

Diana wore the gown by designer Victor Edelstein on at least four other occasions (inspiration for her daugher-in-law?) but the iconic dance with Travolta and images from the White House will likely be the driving force behind its selling-power.

As The Washington Post Style section described it in an article published on Sunday, Nov. 10, 1985, the expectation of Diana’s dress raised the bar on fashion for dinner guests that evening:

Blass! Dior! Galanos! Herrera! Red! Gold! Hot Pink! Emerald! It seemed that the cream of U.S. society took Diana’s fashion reputation seriously last night. They put on a show unrivaled at a White House dinner, with one gown more breathtaking than the one before.

Or at least as breathtaking: Some noticed that Carolyn Deaver and Moira Forbes Mumma appeared to be wearing the same dress, which had a hot pink satin skirt with black velvet bodice.

Nancy Reagan wore the white Galanos gown she wore at the last inaugural. Diana’s dress was a long evening gown by Victor Edelstein in midnight-blue velvet. The sleeveless bodice was “ruched to a low hipline, which is trimmed with a bow,” according to the embassy’s official description. The skirt was flared. She wore long dark-blue suede gloves and a pearl choker with a sapphire clasp.


Travolta wasn’t the only possibility for Diana’s dance card, the article continued:

Photographers started cheering “Clint! Clint!” when Clint Eastwood, sporting a new punkish hairstyle, swaggered in, sexy as ever. “Are you going to asked the princess to dance?” the reporters called out.

“I didn’t know we were dancing,” Eastwood said. “I’ll probably do a little Fred Astaire work.”

Eastwood, one of those guests requested by the palace, said he read in the newspapers that he had been invited before he received an invitation. “Then Mrs. Reagan called me and I said ‘Why not?’ ”

Several others were also asked if they would dance with the princess, including actor Ustinov. “No problem there,” he said. “Once I was asked to dance by the queen. I said ‘I don’t think you know what you’re in for.’ And we actually did retire after two steps.”

John Travolta, who made his mark dancing in “Saturday Night Fever,” said he would certainly ask the princess to dance if it was “permissible.”


The Post ran Travolta’s reaction to the moment the following Monday:

Observers at the party the night before suggested Diana had indeed enjoyed the dance. The royal couple didn’t leave the White House until 12:30, according to the embassy, despite the accumulated effect of a day spent traversing the city. While guest Neil Diamond, a favorite of Diana’s and not scheduled to perform, sang “September Morn” and “You Don’t Send Me Flowers,” the guests danced for more than half an hour. The royals and the Reagans took the first round (Nancy with Charles, Ronald with Diana), followed by the Diana-Travolta performance. The crowd of fewer than 100 artists, dancers, actors and others reportedly stayed off the dance floor and watched.

According to Nancy Reagan’s press secretary Elaine Crispen, Diana and Travolta performed something that “was certainly more energetic than a fox trot. I don’t know what you’d call it — rock or whatever.” After the party ended, Olympic swimmer Steve Lundquist said that he was too nervous to ask the princess for a dance and added, “She certainly holds her own. John Travolta is a pretty hard guy to butt in on. I would hate to butt in on John Travolta.”

Travolta, who also danced with Nancy Reagan, said Diana “was charming. I found her refreshing and down-to-earth.”

And her dancing, he said, was “good. She has style and rhythm.”

Diana offered no critique of her partner.


Clarification: A previous headline on this post incorrectly referred to the State Dinner as the State of the Union dinner.

Cara Kelly manages the development of editorial tools and presentation for new products and user experiences. She previously worked in the Style section, following the completion of her MA in journalism at American University.



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