Revenge Dressing: the Handbag Edition

5 killer tips to serve post-breakup vengeance – in style!

Ah, the power of a great dress. 

It can make AND break an outfit, occasionally a marriage, sometimes even a presidency, and now, the entirety of the World Wide Web. Throughout the ages, it’s sent pop-culture passionates into overdrive, driven fashion fervents into frenzy, and still serves as the cornerstone to any well-curated closet. What’s not to love?

But even within the wider canon of daring dresses that made history (from JLo’s green Versace dress to Elizabeth Hurley’s infamous safety pin dress – also courtesy of Versace), one category in particular stands supreme – that of the revenge dress.

Coined on the eve of the Vanity Fair soirée of 1994 at the Serpentine Gallery of London and propounded by Princess Diana herself, it’s the stuff of fashion folklore. Fitted to the form by (then-relatively unknown) Greek designer Christina Stambolian, the LBD was Lady Di’s sartorial weapon. And as the rest of the world was left reeling from her husband’s shockingly candid ITV confession in the Jonathan Dimbleby documentary – Charles: The Private Man, The Public Role – the princess’ choice of outfit sent the perfect message. 

Princess Diana the Crown
Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana in The Crown image via @keithbernstein

As The Sun puts it, this was “The Thrilla He Left to Woo Camilla.”

Reeling from personal heartbreak, I began to wonder—could we, as the fashion-loving purse-purists we are, channel the same “I’m thriving without you” energy in the best way possible, i.e., through a purse? 

Badass in Black: a Foolproof Formula

Thanks to what has now certainly become the most dramatic of hard launches into one’s divorce era, countless women (and men – natch!) have attempted to replicate Princess Diana’s revenge dress in the context of their own love lives. Customary in this hall of fame of sartorial vengeance have been the likes of Mariah Carey and Bella Hadid, who have gone about wearing their own revenge dresses (or, in the latter’s case, catsuits) to upend the traditional narrative of heartbreak and hurt. 

And what is the common theme between these fashion powerhouses? Why black, of course!

In fact, for Lady Di too, the choice to wear black – a color reserved exclusively for the Royal Family’s occasions of mourning – was a strategic move, representing her own mourning arc over the death of her marriage, neatly packaged in the form of a sultry little number that was sure to turn heads. So, of course, when the rest of your life is seemingly falling apart, what better bag to wield than one in black?

But Don’t Hesitate to Spice Things Up Either

But her choice to be a little wicked that evening wasn’t confined to her dress. Rather, aside from the short hemlines, plunging neckline, and sky-high Manolos that got the tabloids talking, Lady Di opted for fiery red nail enamel – in vivid violation of the Royal dress code that only stipulated nude or neutral tones.

Bella Hadid
Bella Hadid in her revenge look.
Princess Diana
Princess Diana in her revenge dress.

This choice of color struck a chord with our very own Natalie Portman, who, weeks after her divorce, was spotted in Jacquemus’ reimagining of the revenge dress: a dramatic piece in red taffeta. So, who says that your revenge dress or purse must be in black? Flout all conventions with a vibrant red, hot pink, or even icy white!

And if you’re feeling particularly mischievous, an animal print could do no wrong, as Jacquemus’ dedicated “revenge dressing” landing page on the Saks Fifth Avenue site will confirm, with a bold leopard number in a proud display!

A Bit of Bling Goes a Long Way

It’s not just color that you can incorporate into your outfit to up the glam quotient. 

If you think about it, in many ways, 2022 had proven to be fashion’s form of revenge dressing after the sorrows and sufferings of the pandemic. In the same year, we got the return of patent leather courtesy of Chanel, Prada’s fling with bling bling crystals, Carrie Bradshaw’s own love affair with all things sequins and Fendi, and a morbid manifestation of monograms. In short, we said maximal and fashion delivered.

Zoe Kravitz Met Gala 2021
Zoë Kravitz at the Met Gala showing us how to bling right.
Prada Crystal

It’s perhaps the same energy the singular Miss Zoë Kravitz channeled at the Met Gala post-divorce with Karl Glusman – outfitted in a risqué Saint Laurent piece made of bejeweled mesh. But while crystal thong isn’t personally a great look on yours truly, a studded metallic bag (or backpack) gets the point across just as well.

Clutch Your Heart Out

We’ve talked about colors, prints, and textures. Now, let’s talk silhouettes.

And that reminds me – the wedding season is upon us! What better time to run into the ex you desperately wished was uninvited and whose face you hoped never to see again? It’s practically a statistical eventuality at this point.

So, given our love for handheld things, why not forego the handle and choose a clutch instead? After all, wielding a clutch exudes a sense of authority that transcends the mere accessory. Plus, it was a favorite of Lady Diana’s too – aside from the Ferragamo Vara Bow clutch she paired with her Stambolian LBD, she also owned her namesake Diana bag by the brand, as well as multiples of various satin versions she was often seen shielding her face from the paparazzi with.

Clearly, with the royal stamp of approval, you could never go wrong with a clutch!

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The Vara remains a Ferragamo brand staple even today.

5. Take A Page From the Princess’ Playbook

But as legend has it, the revenge dress as we know it almost didn’t happen!

In fact, not only had Lady Di turned down the invitation to the Vanity Fair fundraiser, but she was also originally slated to wear a Valentino piece—the faithful LBD in question, an acquisition she’d made three years prior but deemed too daring to wear.

Rumors of her husband’s infidelity began swirling; however, as Stambolian herself notes, “[The princess] chose not to play the scene like Odette, innocent in white, she was clearly angry. She played it like Odile, in black.” Late Vogue editor Anna Harvey adds, “She wanted to look a million dollars – and she did.”

And really, that’s what your revenge dress – and purse – is all about. It might have merely been a last-minute, albeit headline-grabbing, outfit switch for the Princess. But its cultural and historical legacy has been far-reaching, allowing us to break the rules, reclaim power, and subvert the narrative, feeling like a million dollars.

The dress has subsequently been auctioned – for a hefty sum of $65,000 – rarely to make the public circuits again. But the story of the revenge dress and the lady who lived in it has endured. Like Nora Ephron writes in Heartburn:

“Why do you feel you have to turn everything into a story?”

So, I told her why: “Because if I tell the story, I control the version.”


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1 month ago

Lady Di was an elegant Powerhouse in a dress whose message is strongly remembered so many years later.