Living: Under the counter

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The Independent Online
As we all know, the most well known second-hand clothes in history go on sale at Christie's, New York, on 25 June, when Diana, Princess of Wales, auctions 79 of her evening dresses for charity. But what I want to know is, just who is going to buy these creations?

Can you imagine: there you are, at the ambassador's reception, tucking into your second Ferrero Rocher, when you hear "that's one of Di's old frocks you're wearing, isn't it?"

Buying second-hand clothes is one thing, but buying them and absolutely everyone in Europe and the United States knowing that they are second- hand is quite another. Surely, even the Di-hard Americans wouldn't be seen dead in cast-offs, especially the dated 1980s frocks.

I can see someone like Roseanne, now that she's won the lottery, sprawled on the sofa, wearing flamenco-inspired lot 44 and tucking into some Nachos, but even at Diana's heaviest, she didn't quite reach Roseannesque proportions. The dresses range in size from 8 to 12 apparently, from the painfully thin Hewlett Eighties to the work-out physique of the Carling Nineties.

Personally, I never buy without trying on first, but anything as fundamental as making sure a $5,000 dress actually fits is not one of Christie's priorities. There are no curtained-off cubicles with girls saying "does this tartan Catherine Walker one make me look fat, Doreen?" next to the Great Room where the dresses are on view - you just have to take a punt.

And what about the condition of the dresses? Will Christie's allow you to check under the arms for sweat stains? After all, she has worn some of them in very hot countries and does have a tendency to be a little tense.

Perhaps the thing to do would be to see if the dry-cleaning tickets are still pinned to them, and you might even find a few telephone numbers scribbled on a beer mat in the pocket.

The Great Room is usually graced by Old Masters rather than old frocks, and although you can always get eye-to-eye with a Holbein without paying a penny, at the three-day London viewing you had to pay before you could even get a whiff of one of Di's dresses. Entry to the viewing was by catalogue only, so you had the option of forking out pounds 30 on an A4 soft-bound version or pounds 150 on an A3 hardback - and they were queuing round the street for the privilege.

Why buy a dress that has had someone else's bottom sitting in it, just because it's a royal bottom? This sale is not about couture, it's about trophy-hunting. Saturday Night Fever fans might be out in force for lot 79, an ink-blue velvet Victor Edelstein number in which Di boogied with John Travolta during a state visit chez Reagan.

The other interested parties in New York, after a piece of Di, are reported to be Ru Paul and fellow American drag queens. Diana will never be Queen, but it looks as if her dresses will still be worn by few queens at any rate. I look forward to seeing who will be wearing the world's most famous hand-me-downs.

Something old: Dresses, from the collection of Diana, Princess of Wales, Christie's New York, 502 Park Avenue at 59th Street, New York, 25 June 6.30pm

Something new: Bruce Oldfield, 27 Beauchamp Place, London SW3, 0171-584 1363; Catherine Walker, 65 Sydney Street, London SW3, 0171-352 4626

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