Diana, the TikTok princess: Why the Diana Effect is going viral 40 years on

Who’d have thought that today’s 20-something social media stars would be reviving the Princess’s iconic looks for a generation that wasn’t even born when she wore them? Laura Craik finds out why the Diana Effect is going viral 40 years on

To the generation who grew up with her, Princess Diana epitomised glamour and style. Rare was the teenager who didn’t own a Lady Di ruffle-collar blouse, or the 20-something who didn’t perfect her grown-up look by copying Diana’s smart-casual outfit of jeans, T-shirt and blazer. Diana was splashed across the covers of newspapers and magazines and her every move documented in such a way that her face, and wardrobe, became almost as familiar as our own.

And while many of today’s 20-somethings weren’t even born when Diana died in 1997, 24 years after her death, her style has lived on to inspire a whole new generation. What would she think of the TikTok stan (Gen Z speak for ‘fan’) accounts that have sprung up to document her most iconic looks and hairstyles? We think she’d be delighted.

Here, four TikTok stars explain why they are keeping the spirit of Diana very much alive, and why they believe she is as much an icon for these times as she was 40 years ago.

Jade Leslie: @jadeleslie99,152.8k followers

@jadeleslie99I love her with my whole heart ?? #MONCLERBUBBLEUP #JimJammin #MerryBOSSmas #diana #princessdiana #dianaoutfits #fyp #foryou #outfitinspo #dianainsp♬ Heart Of Glass – Blondie

 Already a dab hand at re-creating the looks of Kendall Jenner and actresses Hailee Steinfeld and Emily Ratajkowski, it was one of Jade’s followers who suggested she copy Princess Diana’s outfits. ‘The response was overwhelming,’ she laughs, ‘3.8 million views and 740k likes. There were so many positive comments about Diana, her fashion sense and how she is truly missed. I loved that I’d brought a little community together.’

The 21-year-old, who lives on the Isle of Wight and is a full-time social media influencer, is a huge Diana fan. ‘I discovered her through my mum, who adores her. I love how Diana didn’t stick to the royal style rules. She wore what she liked. You imagine a princess being told what to wear but you don’t imagine a cool, model-like woman in an oversized sweatshirt and cycling shorts.

‘There’s something incredible about a princess wearing the coolest street style, especially back then. A lot of her casual outfits exuded that “off-duty model” vibe that’s so popular with celebrities now. I couldn’t imagine the Duchess of Cambridge doing the same thing.’ Jade thinks Diana’s style is relevant in 2021, given the current trends for baggy jumpers and blazers, ‘although her blazers were gorgeously fitted, whereas now we’ll just chuck on our dad’s’.

She says she dresses in homage to Diana without even realising. ‘I gravitate towards a white shirt tucked into smart trousers with a brown belt. Diana always pulled that off so beautifully.’

Her favourite Diana look? ‘It has to be the low-cut black Revenge Dress. I love how it broke royal protocol and shocked everyone. She still looked elegant and like a princess. Only Diana could manage that.’

Aaron Leneghan: @artisan_aaron, 2,069 followers

@artisan_aaronMaking myself a version of the black sheep jumper originally designed by Warm & Wonderful. #princessdiana #thecrown #diana #knittingmachine #knitting♬ Edge of Seventeen (2016 Remaster) – Stevie Nicks

A classical pianist, Aaron, 27, took up knitting during the pandemic when he moved from London to live with his parents in Lorne, near Belfast. ‘I was given a knitting machine as a teenager, then last year I had all this free time, so I got it out again and gave it a go.’

One of the first things he made was Diana’s red jumper (worn to a polo match in 1980) which features a repeat pattern of white sheep – and one in black. ‘I found it so striking as a design. The more I looked into it, the more I realised the meaning behind that black sheep, and how it relates to the story of Princess Diana’s life. A lot of people can relate to being the outsider.’ Despite requests from his followers and 104k likes, he has no plans to put the jumper into production. It’s not my design, it’s Joanna Osborne and Sally Muir’s – and they’ve relaunched it.’

He says his interest in Diana began while watching her funeral. ‘I was just four, but it sparked a fascination. I’ve watched documentaries and got to know her style through clips. I also went to see an exhibition of her dresses in London. It felt surreal being so close to such iconic pieces of clothing.’

He thinks the most recent season of The Crown has sparked young people’s interest in Diana. ‘My generation responds more empathetically to the things she went through. We’re more sensitive and aware of mental health issues. Maybe that’s why her story resonates.’

Kaden Luna: @simplesmurf,171.2k followers

@simplesmurf#greenscreensticker #greenscreen Diana was most def more than a woman #GodzillaVsKongRoar #FindYourCore #YasClean #princessdiana #thecrown #harry♬ More Than A Woman – From “Saturday Night Fever” Soundtrack – Bee Gees

 If anyone has perfected the art of dressing like Diana, it’s Kaden. For while there are plenty of TikTok-ers copying Diana’s looks, Kaden goes one further, trawling the internet for the exact matches of her most memorable clothes – the same brand and year – and in particular, her knits and sweatshirts.

The 19-year-old, who lives with his mother near Austin, Texas, has amassed quite a haul. ‘I didn’t start with the intention of collecting so much, but it became a fun thing to do,’ he says. The hardest piece to find was her floral Ralph Lauren sweater. ‘It took a while, but I eventually found it on Ebay for $70 (£50)’.

While he spends around £40 per item, the most expensive thing he’s purchased is a pair of sunglasses. ‘Obviously, not her actual ones, but they’re the same style. I spent $700 (£490), but they were definitely worth it.’ While Kaden’s TikTok account shows a love affair with the 80s, it’s the Diana content his followers enjoy most. ‘It’s interesting to people that my outfits are the same as Diana’s, as opposed to outfits inspired by them.’

He says his favourite look is from 1982. ‘Diana was pregnant at a polo match and wearing a navy sweater with a koala on the front. I love that sweater.’ So much so that he commissioned someone on Etsy to knit it.

He thinks it looks as cool today as it did back then, which is why celebrities copy her looks. ‘Her fashion is timeless. She wore oversized sweatshirts and shorts and now Justin Bieber’s wife Hailey wears them. Everyone can do a sweater with jeans. I’m a huge fan – of her as a person and of her style.’

Rose van Rijn: @70srose, 530.2k followers

@70sroseThe tutorial you all have been waiting for?? #70s #80s #1980s #princessdiana #ladydiana #ladydi #vintage #retro #edgeofseventeen♬ Edge of Seventeen – Stevie Nicks

 ‘I wanted to do it for the longest time, but never had the courage until I watched a documentary on Diana late at night. I felt so impulsive the next morning that I chopped off all my hair,’ says Rose van Rijn, 20, of her decision to copy Diana’s early 80s hairstyle. The video went on to rack up over ten million views.

As her TikTok fans will attest, the Netherlands native is a big fan of the 70s and frequently posts hair tutorials featuring tongs, flicks and other hallmarks of the decade. But she was 13 when she fell in love with Princess Diana. ‘My dad took me to Paris, and we drove through the tunnel where Diana’s car crashed. My dad told me about how she wasn’t just a princess, but an icon. I love that she went from this shy girl to a confident woman who cared so much about important issues. She went out in the world and showed love to people. Of course, she had a sense of fashion and style, and was incredibly beautiful. But what made her really iconic, in my opinion, was her kind and caring soul.’

On TikTok since 2019, Rose has chronic Lyme disease which forces her to spend a lot of time in bed. ‘But on the days I feel good, I love making content for my followers that transports them back in time.’ Unsurprisingly for a 70s aficionado, it’s Diana’s early 80s style, which bore many hallmarks of the previous decade, that Rose loves most. ‘It was so sweet, with the midi skirts and dresses, cute collars and floral prints. She was so sophisticated – never tacky. I would wear every single thing she wore in those years.’

She says her Diana hair tutorial is the most successful post she’s ever done. ‘Lots of my followers already used to tell me I looked a bit like Diana, but its popularity was a total surprise,’ she says. ‘I think Diana appeals so much to younger people because she was so ahead of her time. And then when [season four] of The Crown came out, they discovered what she went through and what an icon she was.’