Has the Monarchy Gone to Diana's Head? Fleet Street Calls Her New Look a Di-Saster

updated 11/26/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/26/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

Any time the Royal Family gathers, it is inevitably Princess Diana who collects the stares. That should surprise nobody, of course, considering her dowdy competition in the royal ranks. But when Britain's favorite trendsetter turned up with her in-laws at this month's formal opening of Parliament, even devoted Di watchers were bug-eyed. Gone was the casual, chin-length bob that had sent millions scurrying to their hairdressers. Instead, Di's blond locks were swept up and tucked into an old-fashioned chignon—the result of weeks of palace experimentation—with a diamond tiara perched on top.

The next morning the five London tabloids delivered their verdict. The hairdo was dumpy, stiff, severe and tacked decades onto her 23 years—a definite "hair-don't." While a few conceded that she looked "stunning" and applauded her courage, the next nicest thing said was that "the Princess had finally learned the secret of wearing a tiara." That was surely a relief to millions of British women who have the same problem.

The furor escalated two days later when Di appeared at an East London orphanage in a '40s-style coif—while the back was combed down, the sides were swept up and held by tortoiseshell combs. "Hair We Go Again" cracked the Sun. Then over the weekend she unveiled a puffier version of her '40s look. The next day, however, the solemn occasion of Remembrance Day—commemorating war dead—dictated that Diana wear a hat. Was some kind of experimental topknot lurking beneath it?

Only her hairdresser knows for sure. Two months ago Richard Dalton, 35, who has been cutting hair since he was 16, replaced Kevin Shanley, 29—the Princess' stylist for the last several years—as the official keeper of the royal coif. (The two happen to be partners of Headlines, a Kensington salon.) For his part, Dalton insists the change was merely a matter of logistics. Shanley lives six miles from Kensington Palace, where Di gets her hair done, while Dalton lives only minutes away. Shanley did not take the news well. "All of a sudden I seem to live a long way out of town," he complained.

Some observers speculate that Diana wants to project a more sophisticated image, while others suggest that she's trying to shake off a bout of postpartum depression. Fleet Street, meanwhile, is distraught over rumors that the Queen may be behind Di's makeover. According to this gossip, Diana is the latest victim of the palace's Dowdy Machine, which has cranked out such cookie-cutter princesses as Anne, Michael and Alexandra. Indeed, one columnist pleaded in print, "Oh, dear, Di, why did it have to happen to you?"

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