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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

The burqa Princess Diana packed for her first tour of the Arabian Gulf

Garment was made, but never worn, amid fears she might offend more conservative hosts

Princess Diana with David and Elizabeth Emanuel, who designed a burqa outfit for her 1986 Gulf tour. Courtesy: RR Auction

It would have caused a sensation across the globe had she had worn it.

New documents show that the late Princess Diana packed a full-length burqa in case it was needed on her first tour of the Arabian Gulf in 1986.

A sketch of the garment shows it was in white, full-length and with just a slit for her eyes. The burqa, by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, who also designed her wedding dress, was apparently taken on the trip but never used.

It appears to have been made at the request of her private staff, concerned about the impact of her wardrobe in what were felt to be the more conservative stops on her tour, which included Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman.

A sketch of the burqa outfit Princess Diana had planned to wear during her Gulf trip. Courtesy RR Auction

A typed note from her Lady in Waiting, Anne Beckwith-Smith, to Elizabeth Emmanuel in June 1986, observes that: “Certain special requirements concerning dress need to be observed and I am writing to ask if it would be possible to submit to The Princess of Wales a few sketches for day and evening wear from which Her Royal Highness could select items for this tour.

“Their Royal Highnesses will be visiting Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. In all cases modesty is the order of the day”.

A Buckingham Palace missive to David and Elizabeth Emanuel highlighted the need for modest attire in Gulf countries. Courtesy RR Auction

The burqa design is part of a collection of fabric samples and paperwork, which includes signed letters, that will be auctioned in Boston, in the United States next month with a minimum estimate of $33,000 (Dh121,000).

The archive, which originates from the Emanual’s shop in London, contains over 200 fabric swatches including floral prints, paisley, stripes, polka dots, pinstripes, solids, and abstract patterns.

It includes a folder marked: The Gulf Tour 1986, Evening Wear Fabrics, in more conservative patterns, but also including gold pinstriped silks.

The burqa is described as a “reserve outfit” and appears to be in two pieces, along with a large white bow and a sash below the waist.

Other descriptions are of an evening dress in "black and white silk duchess satin”, a slim evening dress of "purple faconné with diamanté buttons"; and “a slim fitting evening dress in "white silk crepe embroidered with bugle beads and tiny crystals and diamanté."

A colourful selection of outfits chosen for Princess Diana's first ever trip to the Arabian Gulf 32 years ago. Courtesy RR Auction

For the six-day trip in November 1986, the princess dressed modestly, with long sleeves on her visit to Saudi Arabia, where she was invited to dine at King Fahd’s palace, although not with the men.

For the Oman leg, the princess, who was accompanied by her husband, Prince Charles, famously posed for photographers overlooking the Gorge on Jebel Akhdar, a spot that is now a tourists attraction known as “Diana’s point.”

Three years later the couple returned to the Gulf for a second time, this time visiting Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where they were the guests of Sheikh Zayed.

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Read more:

Diana in the UAE 1989

Watch: Princess Diana’s bold fashion choices during her 1989 Abu Dhabi visit

Princess Diana and her impeccable fashion sense — in pictures

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