I started my blog five years ago this month with the motto “Wear What You Want,” but sometimes I have to draw the line and admit that there’s a style that I truly despise. I’ve already drawn the line at a particularly horrible Herve Leger bandage dress with cutouts, but now I’m ready to draw the line at short, skin-tight bandage dresses in general because they’re (a) overexposed and (b) overexposing.
First, for the overexposed part: As gorgeous blogger Rosalind of The DIY Couturier tweeted me on Monday, bandage dresses have become “the Uggs of Eveningwear.” They’re everywhere. High-school girls wear them to proms and their moms wear them to clubs. Bandage dresses are ultra-mainstream, not radical chic like they were in the ’80s, when designer Azzedine Alaia was called the “King of Cling” for his couture-quality bandage styles. In a 1991 article marking the 10th anniversary of Alaia’s label, Suzy Menkes noted that the designer introduced his slinky clothing “at the moment when fashion was entering the oversized, androgynous era. His body-conscious clothes seemed a deliberate challenge — throwing down a sexist gauntlet in a feminist world.” The fact that Alaia showed his designs on supermodels Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell made the bandage dress that much more glamorous.
You can’t go wrong with those gals.
One of my “Wear What You Want” style icons, the always avant-garde Grace Jones, was also a fan. It was all very edgy.
It was still edgy in 1985, when the designer Herve Leger launched his own label, specializing in bandage dresses. Alaia grumbled that Leger was knocking him off. But Alaia didn’t and still doesn’t kiss the fashion industry’s ass — he’s never created an “It” bag and he shows collections when he wants to. That gave Leger the opportunity to step in and become the big bandage-dress guy. Alaia has had his ups and downs — his company was owned by Prada at one point — but now he’s independent again and about to open his first store in decades. Leger’s label was sold to BCBG Max Azria in 1998. Leger lost the rights to his name, so he now designs as Herve L. Leroux. It took BCBG Max Azria six years to perfect its bandage-dress technique. The company finally launched its first Leger designs in 2007, followed by a New York Fashion Week runway debut in 2008.
Vintage Leger bandage dresses had been worn by celebrities in the interim, so the look never faded away entirely, but the relaunched label got a huge boost thanks to a rainbow-hued vintage dress that Lindsay Lohan wore in May 2007 .
That dress got a lot of media attention. Soon the new Leger label took off … and so did the knockoffs. Right now, this bandage dress with cutouts is available at Bebe for $129.
I look at that dress and think, “Seriously?” I’ll do short. I’ll do tight. I’ll do cutouts. But not all three at once! There’s no mystery! Now we’re into overexposing. Do I think a few special women with great personal style could wear that Bebe piece and make it look fabulous instead of desperate? Sure. Grace Jones could. But most of us are not Grace Jones. For the average woman, to quote another tweet from Rosalind of The DIY Couturier, “Bandage dress = Universal Hookerizer. Young, old, thin, curvy, black, white … a bandage dress makes you instantly look trashy.”
I was tweeting with Rosalind from a screening of the movie Farewell, My Queen, where I spent some time studying a beautiful young woman in a short bandage dress. She was thin and toned, but the sausage-casing fit of the dress created the illusion of a stomach pooch and saddlebags. That’s a common problem with bandage dresses. People claim they smooth you out like triple-strength Spanx, but I often see them either creating or highlighting lumps and bumps that would go unnoticed in a figure-hugging dress that was a little more forgiving. For every sleek Kate Winslet …
… there’s a Kelly Clarkson, who looks like she’s going to burst at the seams.
Dress to flatter your body, ladies! And, remember, it’s not about weight. Blogger Rosalind swears she “saw a Leger at Intermix turn a 6ft 100lb gorgeous young model into a crack whore.” A bandage dress works best with a lower hemline, like the Alaia that style-savvy Farewell, My Queen star Diane Kruger wore to Monday’s screening.
I was much more comfortable in that dress than I would have been in the short vintage Leger I bought right before the relaunch of the label in 2007. I was momentarily blinded by my love for ’80s fashion and MrB’s typical-straight-guy enthusiasm for short, tight dresses. I had a rare case of buyer’s remorse later when I realized I didn’t look Amazonian and haute-couture like Naomi Campbell or Linda Evangelista. I merely looked whore-rific. When I wore the Leger in November ’07, I refused to post a full-length photo.
Since then, I’ve only worn the dress as a layering piece. In April 2010, for instance, I wore it under a white lace coat. (The only problem was that people kept offering to check my coat all night, and I had to keep telling them, “No! This is my outfit!”)
When I got home that evening, I did take one full-length photo of the dress without the coat.
MrB still thinks this is an awesome look but I don’t care what he thinks. Like I said in my original post on my dress, it’s not a good idea to take fashion advice from the average straight guy. Straight guys like Hooters uniforms, after all.
Another drawback to taking fashion advice from straight men is that they always want what they don’t have. If every woman is wearing short and tight, dudes are going to notice the woman in a full-skirted ’50s cocktail dress. That’s exactly what happened to me in Los Angeles in 2004. I went out on a big night feeling self-conscious about my relatively modest vintage dress.
I wound up loving the strange commotion it caused. A local politician sent his hooker over to me at a bar to see if I’d be interested in a threesome (the answer: no). Another man — trailed by a woman in a tiny dress — came over to my table at a restaurant to exclaim, “You look like a princess!” As he walked away, he snarked at his lady friend, “Why don’t YOU ever dress like that?” As a bonus, I got a compliment from Renee Zellweger. That night changed my attitude towards dressing — why blend in when standing out was so much more fun? I credit my “Wear What You Want” philosophy in part to that experience.
Of course, “Wear What You Want” means that if you’re a reader who thinks you look gorgeous in short bandage dresses, you should continue to wear them, regardless of my educated opinion or what mirrors and common sense tell you. I like to help people out, which is why I do my rare “drawing the line” posts, but, like Dorothy Parker said, “A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika.” In other words, your fashion mistakes give me joy. Keep doing you.