How Kacey Musgraves divorced ‘the revenge dress’
Has the pandemic killed off the “revenge dress”? This week, Kacey Musgraves teased her new album and short film Star-Crossed. The releases come after her divorce and there are deep echoes of Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Billed as a “tragedy told in three acts”, the film uses fashion to tell her breakup story, but there is no “revenge dress” look.
The term “revenge dress” was coined in 1994, in reference to the shoulder-exposing black silk Christina Stambolian dress worn by Princess Diana at a public appearance, as Prince Charles went on television to admit to infidelity in the marriage. There was another layer to Diana’s visual messaging though.
“While Charles was publicly admitting his adultery with Camilla on the BBC, Diana rocked up with a dress that utterly undermined his power,” says Professor Andrew Groves, of the University of Westminster. “In this dress, Diana is a woman with newfound agency and authority, astute as ever at grasping the importance of imagery over soundbite in a mediated society.”
In the film poster for Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana, we see her burying her face in the nest of what appears to be a wedding dress. For Groves, it marks a sartorial turning point.
“What strikes me about this image is that Diana is drowning in this dress; it is swamping her,” he says. “But its voluminous quality is also what allows her to hide. This dress embodies the fairytale role that the palace, the nation, and, to some extent, she wished to play. It depicts a point in time when she realised that, rather than playing the role she was expected to play, she could take control of her own narrative, and that how she dressed could be a potent weapon in making this a reality.”
During the Star-Crossed clip, Musgraves asks: “What if our greatest tragedies became our biggest triumphs?” What if, like Diana, the clothes worn in our darkest moments became part of what helped us through them? But there’s a catch. “As we later discovered with Princess Diana, there was someone incredibly unhappy and tortured beneath her expertly constructed self-presentation,” says Groves.