19 sep 2023

Why did Lady Diana’s jumper sell over a million dollars?

On Thursday 14th of September, an old, worn-out jumper sold for over a million dollars at an auction at Sotheby’s New York. Why was it auctioned at such a high price? It belonged to Princess Diana and was dear to her, to the point of becoming a subliminal message symbolizing her place within the royal family…

1. Lady Diana’s first fashion statement 


In June 1981, the 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer had just announced her engagement to Prince Charles a few months earlier. Shy and reserved at the time, she did not display the self-confidence of the future Lady Di, who would sport iconic looks throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Yet, she was already the center of attention of the British and foreign press, her every move and public appearances being scrutinized and photographed – like the polo match she attended in Windsor to watch her fiancé play. Contrasting with the flowery skirts and formal ensembles worn by the royal family on these types of outings, the princess opted for a red, sheep-print jumper. Given as an engagement present, the design of the piece seemed as insignificant as it was childish at first sight… Except that, among the white sheep, a black one stood out. The next day, newspapers headlined that the jumper represented the status of the Princess status metaphorically, a young Diana Spencer lost among the protocols and coldness of the British monarchy. She was the black sheep of the family. While it remains difficult for experts to confirm whether or not the jumper had such a symbolic meaning for Lady Di at the time, that same public appearance was the starting point of her inimitable style, and foreshadowed the importance she would attach to clothing in each of her future appearances.

2. A symbol of Princess Diana’s place within the royal family


Princess Diana became a real fashion icon within a couple of years. Her looks turned into fashion statements, such as the famous “revenge dress” she wore on the evening Prince Charles confessed about his infidelity in 1994. As an endless source of inspiration in the late 20th century and still today, her style was thought through to the last detail. So, when Lady Di reappeared in 1983 wearing the same sheep-print sweater, the intention behind her decision was no longer questioned. Among media speculation, that choice took on new resonance. Despite the birth of Prince William in 1982, the princess remained isolated from the rest of the royal family and turned every public appearance into an expression of her unconventional character. When she sported that jumper again, she knew exactly what she was doing and embraced its symbolism. She even had fun with it by accessorizing it with a bow whose loose ends pointed towards the black sheep. The princess attached great personal importance to it, to the point of having it repaired by designers Osborne and Muir from the young label Warm & Wonderful, who created that original piece. A surprising decision for a piece of clothing that was neither custom-made nor designed by a prestigious fashion house but became a central piece in the mythology of Lady Di.

3. The “sheep” jumper: an iconic piece in the history of fashion


Worn-out at the wrist and on the right sleeve, the original jumper was eventually stored in the British label’s archives for several decades, as a new version was sent to Lady Di. A copy of the new version of the iconic piece ended up in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1985. It also inspired many brands, including Lanvin, who reproduced the pattern on a short-sleeved, blue and white jumper popularized by British singer Harry Styles. The long forgotten original piece unexpectedly reappeared last March when designer Joanna Osborn decided to tidy up her attic. Piled among family mementos and old bed sheets, the jumper that made headlines in the early 1980s, reappeared and went under the hammer at Sotheby’s New York on September 14th. Selling over a million dollars, the original piece more than doubled its estimated price (between $50,000 and $80,000) and officially entered the pantheon of fashion. 


Lot number 1 of the “Fashion Icons” sale at Sotheby’s New York on September 14th, 2023.