Backstory to the Dress Princess Diana Wore to Famous Dance at the White House Causes A Stir

Updated February 13, 2018

Princess Diana probably did not know what fun she was in for on a visit to the White House in 1985. On a state visit to see President Ronald Reagan and his charming wife, Nancy, it was probably Princess Diana’s opinion that nothing out of the ordinary was going to happen. A few boring stately dinners perhaps, meeting politicians who are notorious for not knowing how to let loose and have some fun.

That was all before she got a the White House and stepped onto the ballroom floor with none other than John Travolta, one of the most mesmerizing dancers enjoy some real fame his staring roles in Grease and Saturday Night Fever. He was known to be a great dancer on screen – but was he just as sharp in real life? Diana was to find out.

“I put my hand in the middle of her back” recalls John Travolta of the dance they share, “brought her hand down so that it wouldn’t be so high and gave her the confidence that we would do just fine,” said the star of Grease.

Diana was a willing partner. She took his hand and began spinning gracefully across the ballroom floor shared with Ronald and Nancy Reagan. In total, they danced for nearly 30 minutes!

The night would turn out to be one of the most invigorating in Princess Diana’s life – and the velvet dress she wore became a swift member of the hall-of-fame outfits ever seen at the White House. It has lovingly come to be known as the “Travolta dress”.

The dress is designed by the London-born designer Victor Edelstein. It is defined by an off-the-shoulder cut and came in a divine shade of midnight blue. It is your classic evening gown with a twist! It is clear that Victor was inspired by Edwardian fashion sense with this dress, a time when regality was mixed with understated elegance in fashion. Perhaps the journalist Jackie Modlinger said it best in describing it as “dramatic in style” and “regal in fabric.”

The Princess liked it so much she wore it on a couple of other occasions. It appeared in her wardrobe in Germany in the winter of 1987 and then once the next year, 1988, when she wore it to the film premier of the movie Wall Street.

Before her death in 1997, Diana asked for the dress to be sold in a standard charity auction. Maureen Dunkel, a businesswoman based in Florida was the lucky recipient who shelled out 100,000 pounds for it. Of course she got nine other dresses at the same auction – but the single payment of 100,000 pounds for the dress made it the most expensive dress ever sold at an auction!

The funny thing is: the dress would go on to break it’s own record. Dunkel was forced to sell the dress when she declared bankruptcy in 2011 , and in the auction the dress was sold for 240,000 pounds (or $362,424 UDSD) to a British man. The man wanted to cheer up his wife and thought this velvet piece would do the trick!