Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Wrap Dress: A Dissertation

Lately I've been seeing women in wrap dresses everywhere. I mean, it is the time of year (and we are experiencing a merciful autumn warm patch, to counterbalance the miserable wet, cold summer that just finished). But, I'm talking 50 wrap dresses this week if I've seen one. And, I regret to inform you, anecdotally, this apparently "fool-proof" style looks fairly wretched on about half of the bodies it confidently sheaths. Hence this "How To" post, this ode to the wrap.

For starters, let me concede that I own 4 of this style of dress. One is zebra-print and sleeveless, another has this insane brown, orange, pink and black pattern. One is the most perfect shade of green. The fourth, a simple black. I love to wear them with boots, dainty shoes, big jewels, bolero shrugs. Let me also suggest (feel free to disagree, of course) that mine is an apt figure for this style: fairly symmetrical, narrow in the waist, hour-glass, slim-calved. Oh, trust me, there are 8000 other looks I'd be thrilled to say are all mine, looks I can't pull off to save my life (translucent silk blouse with necktie, anyone?) but this one seems to work on me. How fortunate that I also find it appealing.

Ms. Von Furstenburg would like you to believe that every woman can experience her inner glamazon simply by wearing a wrap dress. I'm inclined to disagree. To wit, the following is a list of figure attributes that don't work optimally with the wrap:
  • An extremely narrow waist against a rather wide derriere: It makes the skirt of the dress hang as if on a shelf.
  • A soft mid-section: If the belted area of the waist is fleshy, one tends to look lumpy.
  • A flat chest: Sorry lovelies, while the flat chest is de rigeur for just about every sexy fashiony look, this one is an exception. Unless you happen to be taller than 5"8, angular and without body fat anywhere else. Then you work the ballerina angle.
  • Untoned, broad arms (though, the right fabric can suck it all in and mitigate this problem)
  • Breasts of observably disparate sizes: Most women have one larger breast but the wrap, which highlights the tits, reveals aysmmetry in the most unforgiving manner. If you fall into this camp and you want to wear a wrap, make sure your bra can solve the problem (put a little padding in the smaller side / wear a molded cup).
Furthermore, few garments rely as heavily on the perfect underpinnings as this piece. Please, please, please heed these guidelines:
  • Your bra must fit precisely (see this previous post for some clarity). In brief (ha), the band needs to adhere to your chest at the centre valley, the cups have to fit snugly (but not too snugly) over the breasts. When you remove the shoulder straps, while the cups may slip off the breasts, the band around your ribcage should not budge. You must wear something that lifts the tits. No drooping allowed!!
  • The bra should be a nude colour (to be invisible) or black (under something dark) and should be seamless and smooth so that the wrap fabric glides against it.
  • Wear a thong, end of story. This look is about ease (and power). I'm sorry, but I don't think Spanx work well under these circumstances. They are too restrictive, at odds with the subtext of the style. If you'd like something to control "dimplage", I suggest a sexy silk slip. Note: My friend Sandra, a wrap dress wearer from way back, disagrees with the thong. She feels it leaves a line at the hip. I say that doesn't happen with a well-fitting thong having a wide-ish band. Maybe this depends on one's unique physiology? What do you believe?
  • If the pluge is deep, or if your midsection isn't tremendously toned, wear a cami. Otherwise you may look lumpy or louche.
And, if ever there were a style requiring good posture, this one is it. Find your inner book-balancer. Lift your crown. Let your shoulders release and roll back for a long neck. Drop your tailbone as if a weight were suspended from it while you lift the breastbone up. That's what will draw your abdomen in and lengthen any waist.

The semiotic subtext of the dress (may I be so bold?) is fertility. Its structure and drape is all about highlighting the fertility touch points of the female form: breasts, hips, waist. Amongst those Biology sorts, symmetry is time and again associated with (re)productivity. Amongst the fashion designer sorts, it's associated with easy sex appeal. I've spoken with many women about the wrap dress, all of whom utter variations on the theme of: "Every time I wear the thing at least 8 guys try to get with me."

In my opinion, the reason the look is powerful is because it cuts to the chase. It says look at me. Not at my outfit. Look at me. Next time you wear one, all decked out and confident, look back. I have a strong feeling you will like what you see.


  1. Yes, ma'am. :)
    I don't own a wrap dress. Now I feel like I should get one just so that I can follow your tips.
    You call them thongs. That's funny. We call them G-strings. Thongs are slippers/flip-flops (as Brits call them) where we are. :P

  2. Well said! I wish every wrap dress came with a print out of this post.

    I am so sorry DVF but your wrap dresses look horrible on me. I have a few Maggie London wrap dresses that I love. Actually, nothing DVF makes looks good on my body.
    I do tend to wear a cami and spanx. No G-string for this weasel.

  3. You are BRILLIANT. I have never bought into the idea that wrap dresses work for all body types. It's just bunk. As someone who possesses basically all three of your no-nos, I can attest to the fact that this is a pretty unforgiving forgiving garment on some of us.

    Just to weigh in on the thong issue: I wear nothing but, and buy them in Size Ginormous because I REFUSE to have them cut into my hips. Like any panty, a thong should glide easily on and off. And you're right, a wide lace band does the trick. Gap's super low rise thong is magnifico, and cheapo to boot.

    Rock on, K.Line.

  4. I have NO BUSINESS wearing a wrap dress. I look like a wide load wearing one.

    But I love it on girls like you, K. Please, keep wearing it so I can live vicariously.

  5. I look terrible in wrap dresses too - they look really matronly on me. My mother actually warned me about them years and years ago (we have exactly the same body she's just a tiny bit taller), and told me not to listen to the "Flatters every figure" hype.

    I have a kind of pseudo wrap Mayle dress though, which looks ok. I think I might wear it today!

  6. Wow, what a tutorial, great indeed.
    In fact I haven't a wrap dress. I don't own many dresses I don't find them so versatil.


  7. How uncanny! I was contemplating wrap dresses just last night, as I realized that while I have two (Boden: casual rumpled linen; Christiane Celle/Calypso: dressy but stiff shot silk), I'd NEVER have chosen one when I was younger because of the frumpy possibilities. But wonder of wonders: the dresses actually now look good (but I make sure to have funky heels on).

    However, I have hated every DVF dress that I've tried. I'd feel waaaay too exposed in a thong. And a cami would annoy me: I actually discretely pin the v-neck.

    TIP: It works best if you pin it a little lower than you think you should. (The dress will drape more naturally, but you won't be exposing yourself.)

  8. I have one that I've never worn. I should wear it this weekend.

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  10. oooh dear; perhaps this is what makes our friendship interesting K: I disagree!
    Not on the "suits everyone", you are right as they make some women look like a truck in a dress; but on the little boobs.
    To borrow a Sal-ism; DVFs have an emboobening effect on moi. I am an A cup (lower case a if that) so I wear a water bra but against my skinny rib cage the DVF cross your heart makes me look, well, Stacked!
    I have them in dresses, I have them tops, I have them in a box with a fox, I do so like my DVF!
    Perhaps it is because I have the little waist and the booty it creates the illusion of an hour glass because they do make your shoulders look a bit wider?

    I thrifted a Bershka one in Suffragette purple recently and while it didnt work at first, with a little extra hookage and a lacy slip it was fine for Trans-warm. Then with black tights and black long sleeved Tee, if worked for Trans-cold; bit like a tunic as I left it well open at the front, no need for the extra hook.

    So thanks for all the other advice (I cannot thong, I wobble too much) but perhaps I am the exception that proves the rule?

  11. Songy: That is funny. I've heard them called G strings but we really do all call them thongs here! You should try the wrap and let me know if you agree!

    Belette: Thank you so much. I've heard so many people lament the DVF myth. I'm not saying she isn't great, just that nobody is one-size-fits-all.

    Sal: I try :-) I totally wear size L in the thong too. I never want any cutting in. I am so going to try your Gap suggestion. Prob with me is the stomach lump :-) Often low rise is code for "yuck".

    E: You fall into the ballerina category! Tall, slim with excellent shoulders. I can't believe it doesn't work on you. Not that I'm disputing your claim...

    Skye: You wear everything with so much awareness about how it will work on your frame. And I love how you've found a version of the look that is great on you. I "cheat" that way too. Not so easy with the ruffle neck blouse, but I'm still looking.

    Seeker: I've noticed you are always in pants or skirts. You'd look great in dresses. Buy some now! And thank you so much for your lovely award. I'm going to do an award post really soon, so thank you!

    Miss C: Discreet pinning of the neck is excellent. Thanks for that tip. I've also resorted to having a snap installed. With my cleavage it can be a must :-)

    Anna: Wear it and let me know if you're a magnet for the boys :-)

    Hammie: I love that you're the exception to the rule. In fact, when I was writing this I was concerned that one of my less boob-y readers might disagree. I totally agree that it's the waist ratio that makes all the diff. Perhaps you're working that ballerina angle? What undies do you wear to manage the "wobble"? Maybe others can benefit from your way of doing it. Thanks so much for your comment. And I should remember that one size fits all doesn't work for posts any better than it does for dresses :-)

  12. Great post!
    I'm not sure which category I fit into but the wrap dress definitely doesn't suit me. You, however should wear one every day! It's perfect for your figure.

  13. I feel HORRIBLE in wrap dresses. Though I am getting one from a designer friend which I assume will work miracles on me. Other than his dress, I hate them :-)

  14. I love wrap dresses, I can had the flaws well and I always feel so polished, as of late I've seen the bubble wrap dresses not sure if they would be fitting on me but...

    I bought a few pieces when I was in London (DVF) one still fits but I am working my way into the other.. Spanx is my best friend hides my flaws in places I never knew existed before..

  15. Janet: You are too kind. But I do seem to end up wearing one every other day :-)

    Wendy: I'm surprised to hear this. It's the kind of timeless/retro look I imagine you would wear so well. Can't wait to see shots of the new designer version!

    GJ: I haven't seen a bubble wrap (funny name, btw) dress. Intriguing! You, in Japan, really have access to the most interesting things.