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.
As for me, that night I wore a dress that was ubiquitous in 2011, though not in the bandage-dress way. Always a rebel, I was in violation of the “no-one-designer-from-head-to-toe” rule.
What Wendy Wore
Dress: Prada (2011)
Shoes: Prada (2011)
Purse: Prada (2007)
Necklace: My own Hatshepsut locket design
Lip color: So Chaud by MAC
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.
Megan Mae says
I think what makes these dresses jump the line to indecent is they often look a lot like sexy-time wear that isn’t meant to leave the bedroom.
I also see double the sausage-squish look than the smooth, spanx look. There are so many great frocks in the world, why wear one that displays it all?
Great informative post, Wendy. I always get great fashion history lessons from you. I bet you could teach a really badass Fashion History class.
I’m just a history buff!
sulky kitten says
I’m an extremely conservative dresser myself, but I admire the sartorial daring of others! I agree with Mr B – you looked fantastic in that dress.
I’m not going to let him see this comment because he’ll want me to wear that dress again!
Patti @ NotDeadYet Style says
Just wow – I’ve *never* had a politician send his hooker over to me, except maybe to ask directions to the Ladies Room. You have it going on, Wendy!
I think you will have your politician/hooker moment yet, Patti!
I agree with your educated opinions. The dress does favors to the very few and has been ‘over exposed’ in every sense of the world. But then I too believe everyone should wear what they like … so that is that! 🙂
Vive la différence!
madeleine gallay says
Love your writing but you know that ..
Azzedine and the real Herve Leger made couture-like clothing, very beautiful and very wearable.
It’s hard to not curl my lips in disdain at the gross max azria and what he does with cheap clothes that look, umm, cheap.
Herve Leroux makes the most exquisite and refined dresses, even some referencing that ’80’s moment.
Herve Leger is one of those teaching moments — so many designers have lost rights to their own name.
Miss Peelpants says
Amen. Thank you for writing this.
I like form fitting and I don’t mind short, but stepping out in basically a long tube top is something I aspired to do when I was 12 and needs to be left there. For 80s glam, I’ll stick with my Sarah Whitworth corset dresses, complete with buffles and sturdy boning.
I’m a big fan of boning. Wait, that sounds kind of wrong! LOL.
Consider Me Lovely says
I LOVE the original Alaia designs; they were sexy and classy! I am so over the Herve Leger bandage dress and its share of knock offs!! Well said Wendy.
It needs to go away for 10 years, then it can be interesting again!
Alice Olive says
Dammit (banging my fist on my desk), I agree with absolutely everything in this post!
Knowing what will work on your body (whether you’re tall, short, thin or thick) is essential and sometimes under-valued by many. There are a lot of amateurs out there. (Disclaimer: Not saying I have never made those mistakes, but I’m ‘old enough and ugly enough’ – to quote an ex-boyfriend – to hopefully know what works for me by now!)
I want to know more about this ex-boyfriend! :-O
Was he making that comment about you or himself?
Susan Partlan says
The bandage dresses remind me of underwear. But I agree with Mr B that you look awesome in that dress! The last story, of what happened when you wore the vintage dress is too funny.
I really got into vintage after that experience.
i just think Kardashian and not in any good way!!
I think Kim K. is one of the few who look good in those dresses these days. I meant to use a picture of her! She has the kind of Jessica Rabbit figure that works with it, and that’s just really her business, right? To walk around looking like that. Britney Spears looks miserably uncomfortable in her bandage dresses.
you look awesome in the black dress!
i dont like these tight dresses so much but the one from lindsay is cute!
I do like the rainbow colors in that one. I always like a rainbow!
I completely agree! Ugh. Stop already. Although Kate Winslet does look amazeballs in her knee length version…
The hemline makes a world of difference. Also, she wore it when it was still a little shocking!
I’m still glad I never jumped on the bandage dress bandwagon.
Well, you have good taste!
I think Kelly Clarkson looks pretty elegant, actually! Definitely showy and form-fitting but Lindsay Lohan & the Bebe model look more like they’re about to burst at the seams, despite being much skinnier and less curvaceous. It’s all in fit, and I think Kelly Clarkson’s bandage dress fits well enough to pull off the super tight look!
I don’t know what picture you’re looking at, but to my eyes, Kelly’s breasts are flattened and her hips look big. Lindsay actually has room in the back. I don’t care for how it looks on her in that picture. It fit better on her from the front. But it got attention because of the colors and the (at the time) shockingly snug fit, not necessarily because it was flattering.
Katie Winn says
I enjoyed this post very much and I will have to agree that a skirt can only be so short before you have gone over a huge line. A line I will never cross anyway to each their own I guess!
People will do what they’re going to do, that’s why I rarely bother to criticize!
You my dear are looking lovely and chic as ever!!
That’s so funny about those dresses – they really are everywhere..! “Uggs of Eveningwear” LOL
Rosalind’s funny comments inspired this whole post.
I’ve always thought that bandage dresses do the opposite of what people think they do. Have you noticed that there’s a certain pose that comes with the dress as well? Bony butt jutted out as if you’re J.LO when it’s your tummy that’s accentuated without effort (even if you’re kate moss. Okay, maybe not her but you get the idea).
At the end of the day, wear what makes you happy ! Though knock off bandages dresses seem to be great markers for bitchiness.
I have to study the poses now!
miss cavendish says
Saw a bandage dress in blues in the Neiman Marcus lookbook today. Honestly, I thought they had been retired by now.
They’re just such a yawn.
First off I have to say I LOVE the dress Grace Jones is wearing. If I was an amazon I would totally want that dress. Next I would have to say that you do not look at all bad in the bandage dress. I think they can make women look trashy but I think its all about the accessories too. I don’t think you could look trashy if you wanted to. And also I have to say I do want to try on a bandage dress someday. Just to see how it looks. I have a feeling I wouldn’t like it on myself either.
I think it’s ALWAYS worth trying things on. Why not? Doesn’t cost anything 🙂
Make Do Style says
Yes!! I think no rules is the best option when it comes to style but have always loathed Leger dresses for all the reasons you have detailed. Plus I would add that the fact people have to join a roll & are unable to think for themselves always gets my fashion goat.
Love the straight guy advice re dressing xx
Sexy MUST equal bandage dress, right? Well, if it makes someone feel good about herself, I’m happy enough for her. Even if it hurts my eyes.
hi, forgive me but I\’m new to this & I\’m just
curious as to what exactly your eduaction is in? I read that you studied journalism and somehow ended up giving your educated opinion on fashion….. correct? Anyway, i think thats great. I love\’d ur piece, it was very informative but super opiniated at the same time. I\’m really hating on a trend right now, its the one with sparkles & kittens that make you fat when you see it sideways. Gonna post some pics just like u to prove how dangerous it is :)stay tuned kids
You read wrong. My “eduaction” is in English literature. The best thing about a broad liberal arts background, such as the one I have, is that one is trained in critical thinking. That skill can then be applied to a range of fields, including journalism, jewelry design, and being “super opiniated” about bandage dresses.
I do agree with you that sparkles and kittens are inadequate when it comes to hiding one’s figure flaws.
The Style Crone says
Always such a great read Wendy. But I have to say that you look great across the continuum in 50’s vintage and bandage dress.
Now if I can only learn to wear hats with your flair!
Practical Paralegalism says
Oh’s I wouldn’t say that dress had anything “ho” in it on you – just that it takes a lot of a gal’s parts staying in the right place at the right time to pull one of these off. My daughter, now the NYC Costume Technician, made one of those bandage wrap dresses, and showed me a video of all the different ways to wear them, and I came away with, “Er, maybe only one way would look good on me. In the dark :o” I’ll be the first to admit that when I wear a dress, I need some real support – not bandaids!
“Er, maybe only one way would look good on me. In the dark” — LOL! A sense of humor is always the most stylish accessory.
These dresses are very hard to make the right way! Impressed that your daughter did it.
I love to read your opinion on these things. Your background, education and taste level speak for themselves!
Loved the “average straight man” comment!
Tricia Lewis says
I remember putting on an Alaia sample for the first time ages ago, scared to death it wouldn’t fit, and it was like magic. The cut, the fabric – his dresses make a woman look gorgeous. It’s when I first gained an appreciation for gifted design.
I’m just amazed the Leger knockoffs are still around, and question how Azria will keep the label going with the same look every season. Although if it keeps selling, I guess the company doesn’t care much about being derivative of itself.
I haven’t tried on an Azria version of the Leger…definitely the original Leger DID work like triple-action Spanx and thank God because there’s no room for anything under it!
Terrific post! I have long hated the bandage dress. Doesn’t matter how hot it is, and how hot the wearer is, it’s all too much (as you’ve so well articulated). I do love how you use yours as a layering piece. BTW, on boobish girls, like me, that dress is so hooker, it’s crazy.
THANK-YOU for this post Wendy! I’ve stalked your blog for awhile, but this is the first time I’ve actually commented. I couldn’t agree more with everything you said! I honestly don’t understand how anyone is still wearing these dresses…honestly, have some self-respect! I’m all for making a statement, but what kind of a statement are you trying to make? Fashionista or Slut-ista? And just because you CAN wear one doesn’t mean you SHOULD…as a very petite but curvy size 0 (I’m not bragging, I swear! I actually hate being so small!) I’ve had friends admonish me for not wearing things like this “because you can!” I, however, prefer to leave a little bit more up to the imagination while maintaining my dignity!
I wish this blog post could be broadcast on every form of mass media & recognized for the PSA that it is! Ladies, it’s 2012! It’s time to move on!!!
I WILL say, however, that I actually agree w/ Mr. B 100% & think that you look FANTASTIC in your bandage dress! You manage to make it look classy, a feat that is all but impossible! Your dress is actually A LOT longer than most of the crotch-length numbers I’ve seen, so that definitely helps.
Anyway, thanks for posting this, & always delivering the honest truth in an entertaining format! Can’t wait to comment more & eventually get my hands on some jewels! You’re an inspiration!
It’s way past my bedtime, so I’m sorry for the less than thoughtful comment, but I just had to chime in with an AMEN! I’m so glad someone finally said it!