The ‘Modern Princess Diana Bob’ Is Here. Is It Best Left in the Past?
One of Princess Diana’s signature hairstyles has been reborn as a “modern bob.” Alaina Demopoulos thinks it’s unflattering, while Tim Teeman relishes all the choppy memories.
Alaina Demopoulos: After a year in lockdown that found us bleaching, buzzing, dyeing, or growing out our hair, one might think that our heads have been through enough.
But brace yourself: Princess Diana hair is making a comeback. Or at least if you ask the folks at Glamour, who have dubbed her ever-divisive mushroom bob the haircut of the season. Blame it on The Crown, Kristen Stewart’s upcoming Diana biopic Spencer, or a renewed interest in royal drama courtesy of Meghan Markle’s Oprah interview.
I am here to say: It is not too late. We don’t have to live like this. The “Modern Diana Bob,” as it’s called, must be stopped.
Let me be clear. I am very much team Diana. I have devoured just about every series or movie which centers the Princess of Wales—even the bad conspiracy theory documentaries. I understand that Princess Diana was a style icon, an international role model, and tireless advocate for the most vulnerable. She gave so much to the world... but we don’t have to pretend that we all want her hair.
That feathered shag, both instantly recognizable and ever-imitated, did much to promote Diana’s image as a new kind of royal, the noble-next-door plucked from privileged obscurity and thrown into the world’s most famous family. And even though countless women tried to recreate Diana’s sweeping layers at home, she was sort of like the 1980s version of models I see today on Instagram trying to make mullets a thing. It works for them, just like it did for her, but I won’t pretend that I could pull it off. Please, people, resist the allure of the “Modern Diana.” My cheekbones can't handle it.
Tim Teeman: The first, most obvious problem with Glamour’s thesis is that Princess Diana never had this haircut. Meg Ryan popularized a version of this haircut years later. Diana’s chopped-in hairdo was no bedhead-in-waiting, and it was very much of its time many years earlier. This was a time of clouds of hairspray being used to keep bigger and stiffer styles firmly in place. Diana subverted the iron-clad bouffant for sure, and her hair loosened up even more later in her life, when it became slicker and wavier.
But the feathery layering she did to it in the early/mid-’90s was delightful, and unlike Alaina, I love it.
It even looked glorious when it got wet—recall when Diana and the boys got soaked at a visit to an amusement park.
Diana didn’t wear her hair exactly as Glamour shows, but because she layered her hair and set it big, anything that could be approximately visually related to it becomes a descendant. Diana was a fashion icon, and her hair and style influenced others, but the hair Glamour is invoking here is not a Diana style, but so what? The Crown means she has returned as an icon of all kinds, including style, and so here we are.
The evolution of Diana’s hairstyles took place alongside a corresponding evolution in her sense of style; and mapped the evolving spirit of the 1980s alongside popular TV characters like Sue Ellen in Dallas and Alexis in Dynasty.
Like them, and Margaret Thatcher, Diana’s hair began its odyssey in mousier times, the early 1980s, when big hair was yet to really happen. The glorious Farrah Fawcett and Studio 54 flicks of the 1970s had somehow morphed into modest pudding bowls, as seen on Joanna Lumley’s Purdey in The New Avengers. And this is where Diana’s hair began its journey when she was a young woman working as a nursery assistant. The first signs of incipient volume came when she and Prince Charles gave their engagement interview, where he says “whatever in love means.” Her hair looks, appositely enough, like a heavy, approaching cloud of woe.
As the decade became showier, so her hair got bigger and more complicated. Diana and her style exploded in an era when fashion and beauty itself become more accessible. Suddenly, good fashion was affordable, and Diana as a style avatar was the ideal transmitter of this democratization (even if the labels she wore cost in the thousands).
Alaina: I agree that proponents of the “Modern Diana Bob” are playing fast and loose with her hair legacy. Kristen Stewart and Kaia Gerber (two people Glamour cited as Diana hair ambassadors, below), do not have her hair at all, save for it being short and blonde.
Their ears are also liberated from the bowl shape Diana had in her early years as Charles’ fiancée and young wife. Was she really “Shy Di” or could she just not hear anything underneath that crown of waves? What makes Diana’s hair so iconic is that it was uniquely hers, and anyone recreating the style just looks like they’re putting on a Halloween costume.
The royal wedding era Diana of 1981 had hair that was a feat of architecture—side-swept and choppy, but helmet-like in construction. Not a strand out of place. I just wish someone would have tousled it up a bit, but the closest we get to that is when she blew it out to the side. It bounces, but in a controlled, rigid way that makes me sit up straight and hold my breath. Not exactly conducive to this post-vaccine, hedonistic, “roaring 20s” future some are promising.
Stylists told Glamour that a layered version of the style is popular again because one can blow strands out and get a little “bounce.” That makes the redone version slightly more punk rock than Sloane Ranger—Diana's hair kept in place. Not a lot of spring in there. The color is different too, you can see Kristen Stewart’s dark brown roots, and Kaia Gerber’s blonde is a little more brassy, à la Debbie Harry. Diana always preferred her side-swept bangs, but as the TikTok meme goes, Gen Z has spoken: side parts aren’t cool anymore. Middle parts are in.
Tim: I think the problem with mis-labeling this new hairstyle is indicative of a lot of mis-labeling around Diana. I’ve noticed fashion spreads that supposedly show her influence as a trend that really amount to a color (Diana wore green! Here is Diana in green! Green is back!), or a dress featuring a piecrust collar is immediately because… Diana. But piecrust collars were everywhere in 1981, Diana was just photographed in them. Before Diana went choppy, she went big. Her hair becomes voluminous, with a side parting and grand sweep.
And then later, the choppy, feathery hairstyle materializes. Where Alaina sees a frozen, jetted mass, I see the third and fourth iterations of Diana’s hair odyssey, where she is beginning to emerge as a force in her own right. The strange thing—and I don’t mind it—is that it seems like an older person’s hairstyle now. But I don’t think it ages her.
And I really love it when it has its best night out—the evening when Diana went to the Serpentine in 1995, the night Prince Charles was confessing his adultery on TV. Together with Diana’s Christina Stambolian cocktail dress that night, the hair was delivering the best kind of FU to Charles. And it blew him straight off the front pages the next morning—Diana using fashion, hair, and beauty at its most devastatingly mischievous.
Alaina: The revenge dress! Yes, Tim. It is one of my favorite “celebrity” moments of all time because it is such a human moment. Watching footage of her stepping out of that car gives me a serotonin boost that I think no antidepressant could ever match. There is a naughtiness to Diana’s hair during this period, especially when she paired it with sexier outfits. (See: the white mini Versace number or Dior slip dress from the mid-90s.)
Like Tim said, her shorter cut by London hairdresser Sam McKnight looks dated now. But on Diana, and worn with a killer evening gown, suddenly it’s quite subversive—the preschool teacher gone rogue. I also find it quite poignant that she hit her hair stride as her marriage to Charles crumbled; that speaks to the confidence that comes with a new cut. Do I think we should rush to replicate it? No—on the wrong, unmasked Target shopper it could veer into “Karen” territory very quickly. Diana’s hair is a time capsule in itself, a lasting reminder of how quickly we fall in and out of love with trends.
Tim: You’re so right. It’s Diana-specific isn’t it? It reminds me of us all going to hairdressers, and seeing the pictures of models’ hairstyles there, and saying “That please!” or sometimes clutching a picture torn from a magazine and proffering it to the hairdresser—always more in vain hope than in belief it can be precisely replicated. Diana had both the power of image and celebrity, and yet somehow that extra bit of magic—relatability—that made much more beyond her clothes and hair feel so close. Whatever that added element is informed why so many people around the world felt so grief-stricken when she died, and expressed that grief so openly.
When I think about Diana’s hair, like you, I think it maps the story of growing independence. Look at the trips to New York and Sydney she took after her divorce was made official. By the end of her life, we should note that the chopped-in, feathery look which you don’t like and I adore, has gone. Now officially not a royal any more, and cut loose by the family, Diana’s hair becomes more sleek and luxuriant. All the primped fuss has gone.
Now—and it’s 1996/7, the era of the Rachel-from-Friends is upon us—a more polished, easy style is beginning to assert itself. It may sound silly, but when she died, Diana’s hair was at its most glamorous and also at its easiest. She was wearing it and dressing it for herself, just at a time when she was discovering what a life of true independence might look like.
Alaina: I hope there won’t be a mad rush for mushroom cuts this summer, though if there are... very happy for you, Tim. One thing I do appreciate about early-eighties Diana hair is its ever-so-slight gender blending. As the London hairstylist Andreas Wild told Glamour, “It’s so feminine in a masculine way.” When she became a princess, Diana decidedly did not have princess hair. Or at least she didn’t have it in the same way we see long, bouncy waves on Kate Middleton or Meghan Markle.
Diana from that era looks a lot like her young sons would a decade or so later, a little boyish and mop topped. So yes, I don’t want the “Modern Diana bob,” whatever that is. I urge caution for anyone who thinks they do—it never looks the same as it does in the picture you give your hairstylist! But I remain impressed with Diana’s cultural cachet, even more than 20 years after her death. And the evolution of this style reminds us all that trends are so cyclical—even the questionable ones. Live long enough and you’ll have tried it all.
Tim: The more I think about the early Diana styles, the more I love them—they seem to think of a more innocent time, or at least a less vain and stupid time. The era of celebrity hadn’t struck. Rich people and celebrities did not have stylists and style advisers. The first Diana hairstyle we see, the non-style, is a corrective to all the over-styled insanity that has followed.
As far as I can make out, Glamour’s hairstyle-to-copy seems to be one from the mid-1980s, when Diana’s hair was transitioning to something more overtly glamorous as her own global stardom was growing. Things got really interesting later with the choppy, feathery cuts, and then the final journey to confident sleekness. Mario Testino shot Diana at her most intimate and comfortable; the tousled hair he captures of hers really is a thing of beauty. Emulate that!
The most important accessory Diana had—and this was someone who knew how to wear the well out of a choker and bracelets—was something uniquely hers. Her smile may have been necessary armor, but it also telegraphed that she also thought all of it—the drama, the attention, the photographers—was a bit nuts, and that she was trying to be in on the joke and madness of it. She knew how to play those public moments to the hilt. There was a joy and mischief to Diana, and so I also hope she is somewhere laughing her head off at the thought of one of her hairstyles being “back.”