The Story Behind Princess Diana’s Philadelphia Eagles Jacket
Ahead of the Super Bowl, a look at one of the most unexpected pieces in the princess’s wardrobe — where it came from and why she wore it.
Hello! After the deluge of Spare content (you can catch up here) and before I dive into First Lady Fashion (coming up next!), I thought I’d take us all down a little Princess Diana fashion rabbit hole (a timely tangent, if you will).
With the Philadelphia Eagles playing in next weekend’s Super Bowl, pictures of Diana ~sporting~ a custom team jacket have resurfaced all over social media. Talk about unexpected fashion! The princess was photographed wearing the jacket in public at least twice, once on a school run in 1991 (scroll down) and again a few years later at a theme park (above). I love the latter shot so much that I briefly considered putting it on the cover of my book (can you imagine HRH in green?).
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So, you may be wondering, how did Diana get the jacket? Was she an Eagles fan? Well, friends, buckle up. This is quite the years-long journey (that’s more about fashion than football, I promise!).
Where does the story of Princess Diana and the Philadelphia Eagles jacket begin?
At a funeral, if you can believe it. Before we can get into the stylish piece, we need to rewind the royal clock to 1982. A little scene setting: This was early in Diana’s royal tenure and the 21-year-old princess was navigating her new superstar status. That fall, Diana attended the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco — her first solo foreign trip on behalf of the royal family.
Why was Diana at Princess Grace’s funeral?
Diana felt a kinship to Grace, having met her 18 months prior on her first official royal outing after her engagement was announced. HRH readers will remember that moment, pictured above, when Lady Diana Spencer wore a revealing strapless black gown. Princess Grace was there, too, and Diana told author Andrew Morton “how wonderful and serene she was.”
As Morton writes in his explosive biography, Diana: Her True Story, “[Grace] noticed Diana’s uncertainty and, ignoring the other guests who were still buzzing over Diana’s choice of dress, whisked her off to the powder room. Diana poured her heart out about the publicity, her sense of isolation and fears about what the future held in store. ‘Don’t worry,’ Princess Grace joked. ‘It will get a lot worse.’”
Following Grace’s sudden death, Diana traveled to Monaco to attend the funeral. Morton describes the princess making several pleas to attend — first to Charles, then to the Queen’s private secretary, and finally to the Queen directly. Tina Brown, in her 1997 book The Diana Chronicles, had a different take. When Grace died, the Queen “was not in favor of any Windsor woman going to the funeral,” according to Brown. Her Majesty wanted Charles to go, but he declined. “Monaco is a tin-pot kingdom as far as the British monarchy is concerned, and Grace was a creature of Hollywood, albeit an elegant one,” Brown writes. (Anyone recognize the judgment of an American actress?) Diana was keen to go, according to Brown, because she “knew instinctively that world-class glamour like hers thrived in high-profile cosmopolitan settings.”
Both Morton and Brown seem to agree that Diana was drawn to Grace’s story as an outsider marrying into a royal family. “We were psychically connected,” Diana told Grace’s daughter, according to Brown.
What does any of this have to do with the Philadelphia Eagles?
Before she joined the monarchy of Monaco, Princess Grace was the Academy Award-winning actress Grace Kelly of Philadelphia. Her father, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, ran what the New York Times called a “construction empire;” her mother was the first director of women’s athletics at the University of Pennsylvania. Kelly’s ties were so strong that she gave her wedding dress to the Philadelphia Museum of Art shortly after the wedding, where “it has become one of the collection’s most popular and beloved objects,” according to the museum’s website. A few years ago, with the Kelly family home in Philadelphia in disrepair, Kelly’s son, Prince Albert of Monaco, restored it. You can see photographs here.
Elizabeth, get back to the jacket!
I told you this was a rabbit hole! But yes, back to the fashion item in question.
Many Kelly family friends made the trip to Monaco from Philadelphia for Grace’s funeral. And it was there that Princess Diana struck up a conversation with Jack Edelstein, who was the statistician for the Philadelphia Eagles. More from the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“Edelstein was a longtime friend of the Kelly clan, who hailed from East Falls. During the funeral reception, he struck up a conversation with Diana about several topics: The United States, the dignity of Grace, the refreshing qualities of wine spritzers (it was the ‘80s, after all).”
According to his 2000 obituary in the Associated Press, Edelstein was known as “master of double talk” who was “famous for his nonsensical speeches at roasts and charity events.”
While chatting with the famous princess, Edelstein brought up the Eagles and Diana asked about the team colors. “Green and silver,” he told her, according to an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News after her death. “Those are my favorite colors,” Diana responded.
Not to step on the excitement of sports fans, but I feel the need to point out that it does not seem as though Diana was particularly knowledgeable about football. “She thought football was more like soccer,” Edelstein said.
When Edelstein got back to Philadelphia, he worked with then-team owner Leonard Tose to have a custom Eagles jacket made for Princess Diana. They sent it off as part of a package of Eagles merch and received a “very nice note” in response, Edelstein said, about “how she’d been wearing [the pieces] around.”
When did Diana first wear the jacket in public?
It’s unclear. But the first *photograph* of her in the jacket didn’t appear until many, many years later — in 1991.
Again, a bit of scene setting helps here. A lot had happened in those nearly nine years. Diana struggled mightily with royal life; while her unhappiness was heavily rumored, the floodgates divulging the extent had yet to open. Her marriage was crumbling, too, although again the public wasn’t privy to the depths of her troubles with Charles.
What was very well known, however, was the immense interest in Diana and her fashion. She was a global style icon, with her wardrobe a huge source of attention and conversation. Add to all of this that Diana’s “off duty” (I put that in quotes because when is a royal ever off duty?) school runs were a thing. Photographers loved to catch her shuttling her kids to school because the public loved to see it — such a relatable mum move, no?
From a fashion perspective, I think what made this first photographed wearing of the jacket so notable is the way she styled it. Diana paired the statement athletic piece with relatively conservative and dressy daywear: a pencil skirt, stockings, and a statement belt. It’s not the expected foundation for something so sporty — and therein lies the excitement! Such a clever twist.
Did Diana wear the Eagles jacket again?
Yes, she was photographed in it at least once more. And I’d argue the second moment, in 1994, was the defining one. Again, humor me here, but it helps to understand the context. A lot had happened in those three years. Morton’s aforementioned book detailing Diana’s trauma within the royal fold was an international blockbuster; the Waleses had formally separated the year before; and Diana had announced she was stepping back from public life, which meant the world saw a lot less of the princess in formal royal engagements.
In the spring of 1994, Diana took her two sons to a theme park — and a photographer was there to document it. (Was he tipped off? Invited? Unclear! Hard to imagine that sort of thing happening today…) The Princess would have stood out in that setting no matter what she was wearing. But a bright green custom Eagles jacket made it extra easy to spot her. She’s g-l-o-w-i-n-g in the photographs, with a megawatt smile. So it’s no surprise that….
What about the People magazine cover?
Just a few months later, this picture of a beaming princess ended up on the cover of People magazine. With the headline: Diana’s Daring New Life, the jacket suddenly became so much more than just a jacket. It was now a visual representation of her newfound independence.
What’s more, it was a precursor to the Revenge Dress moment that came later that summer. And it was the beginning of an embrace of American-themed sporty styles, including sweatshirts emblazoned with an America flag and the logos of Harvard and Northwestern. The message was layered and clever. It was a rebellion against the royal family, and a way to build even more affection for the princess among her stateside fans.
Where is the jacket now?
GREAT QUESTION. The piece has not been seen in decades. We know other items in her wardrobe were auctioned off, first by the princess herself in 1997 and since by other collectors. But the jacket has never been among those lots.
I’m going to take a page from my friend Hitha Palepu (and Eagles fan!) who floated the idea of Meghan wearing it on a school run in Montecito. Can you even? How epic would that be?
So, back to the original question, was Diana an Eagles fan?
Mmmm…no. Sorry!! “She wears these things because they create a look,” Morton told the Daily News in 1991. “She knows very little about English sports, let alone American teams.”
Still, Eagles fans have adopted her as one of them. According to People magazine, “Photos of Diana in her go-to jacket proudly hang in bars across Philadelphia.”
I think she’d get a kick out of that, don’t you? 🦅 💚
I loved this piece! I knew some of the story already, but I am DYING to know where The Jacket is today. Like if Meg showed up at the Super Bowl wearing it, I’d simply perish in the best of ways. 🥲
Wouldn't it be amazing to see Meghan and Harry at the Super Bowl and Meghan in this jacket?!?! This is a great story. I love all the context and behind the scenes! I had no idea about her connection to Grace Kelly!