The History Of The ‘Revenge Dress’

The power of the breakup look


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by •CHERRY COW• (@cherrycowuk)

In 1994, Princess Diana stepped out in a black gown that would make fashion history. The late aristocrat was attending a Vanity Fair gala, when she made an entrance in an off-the-shoulder slinky black dress by British designer Christina Stambolian. Earlier that same day, her husband Prince Charles publicly confessed to partaking in a years-long affair.

Needless to say, all eyes were on Diana that day, and she chose to make a statement. The so-called ‘revenge dress’ was born and captured the attention of millions. And even now, almost 30 years later, the dress is just as recognisable and infamous as it was back then. The iconic moment was just the beginning when it came to post-breakup victories with countless other celebs embracing a bombshell look after a split. But why exactly do revenge dresses have such a hold on us?   

The iconic revenge looks are more than just gorgeous gowns, as they’ve allowed women to take back control of their own narratives. For reference when Charles’ affair was revealed, divorce wasn’t even legal in Ireland, and while it was available in England, there were still many taboos and stigmas around separation. So seeing Diana out, dancing with friends, surrounded by glasses of bubbly champagne, and wearing a daring dress, on the day her husband appeared on TV, admitting to cheating… It wasn’t an image that was seen often, a happy and fulfilling life post-separation, and so it was extremely compelling. 

While separation is more common and less stigmatised in modern times, revenge dresses have remained just as fascinating to the public. Most likely because they’re still relatable, just for a different reason. Back in the day, when a couple split, it was the end. Sure maybe you lived in the same area, or had the same circle of friends, but for the most part, you didn’t have to see your former flame every day. However, social media has changed all this.

The run-in has been replaced by the profile pop-up, knowing that your ex, and mutual connections, might see what your life is like after the breakup. Suddenly dressing for revenge wasn’t just about being papped looking perfect, or capturing attention on the red carpet, but about regular people putting on a dress, plastering on a smile, and posting to social media. Playing into the idea of ‘winning the breakup’, showing yourself as booked, busy, and unbothered, and having your own revenge dress at the top of your profile.     

But while there is certainly something cathartic about being considered the successful one in a breakup, is this really the best way to move forward? Mel Murphy of explained that there can be benefits to curating a post-breakup image online, as it encourages you to socialise and focus on improving your own life, taking you out of victim mode. But generally focusing on your ex isn’t the best option.  

“It is usually recommended that you take the ex off social media so that you’re not doing things based on your ex again. You can focus more on your own recovery and what’s really right for you at this time in your life,” she shared.  

What’s really important is inner healing, like “recovering yourself, where you really want to go and what your values are” and making sure you have a strong support system as Mel explained: “You might want to have an inner circle. People who are still there to support you if you just stumble a little bit afterwards.”  

Even with a picture-perfect profile, “there’s still the reality of feeling a lot of loneliness or other things. So it’s good to have a close couple of friends or family members who are still there. Because if everyone thinks you’re doing fine, they may not understand if the person goes through some of those stumbles later.”   

She adds: “Overall, I think that it’s a great positive step. It’s certainly better than staying in victim mode. But I do think it’s important to do the real inner work…just privately, forgiving and letting go of the past.”  

A revenge dress doesn’t have to be about dressing for your ex. That original appeal of reclaiming your narrative can be a powerful way of embracing your identity after a toxic relationship, dressing for yourself and taking back control. But it’s important to consider your motivations and remember, the best revenge is a life well-lived.


Have your say

More like this