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Taylor’d With Style: It’s A Wrap

By JeanAnn Taylor

The iconic wrap dress continues to be a staple in many women’s closets. It can be styled with cardigans, boleros, or short jackets, and worn with ballet flats or boots.
model poses in red dress against stark black background

The Wrap Dress—defined as a dress with a front closure. It is worn by wrapping one side across the other and then wrapping the attached ties around the waist.

The ties are then tied into a bow to hold the dress together. This simple design forms a V-shaped neckline. It can be sleeveless or have short or long sleeves. It can be created simply or have flounces and frills at the seams. The wrap dress hugs a woman’s curves and offers a flattering silhouette for nearly every figure.

Although most of us consider Diane von Furstenberg to be the creator, the wrap dress actually originated long before she came onto the scene. Charles James, a designer in the 1930s, designed clothing considered to be scandalous by some people. James was obsessed with the sensuality of the female body.

He designed garments that accentuated a woman’s shape. He even went as far as to create garments that featured bustles resembling genitalia. Embellishments placed at certain points emphasized his intention. His version of a “wrap dress” had fabric spiraling down around the body and held together with only a clasp at the hip.

The dress gave a first impression of sophistication and elegance; however, its underlying message was one of seduction. James named the dress “the taxi dress” because a woman could easily slip out of it in the backseat of a taxi cab. This outrageous design gave James a lasting legacy.

During the Great Depression, women wore “Hooverettes.” Usually homemade, the dress wrapped around at the waist, had puffed sleeves and a slim profile. It was made to slip easily over a nicer dress when a woman had work to do.

Around this same time, Elsa Schiaparelli came onto the scene and began designing her eclectic version of the wrap dress. In the 1940s, Clare McCardell designed a “popover” dress. This war-time frock made it easy for women to wear the same wrap-dress for various activities.

The wrap dress then took a back seat in fashion until the early 1970s when 26-year-old Diane von Furstenberg (DvF) came to America from Italy. This ambitious designer brought a few dresses with her, just to see if they would sell—and sell they did.

She was inspired by the type of sweater ballerinas wear and full, fluid skirts. Her version of the wrap dress was made with soft jersey fabrics in bold, colorful prints. The collars, long sleeves, and a bow that tied at the waist made her design an instant success. “I made easy little dresses . . . I didn’t think I was actually designing them, and I didn’t think of them as a fashion statement,” she said.

DvF’s designs came at just the right time. In the 70s, women were searching for a sophisticated way to be feminine, yet show their independence. DvF’s wrap dress proved to be the design that gave them what they were looking for.

Although she didn’t invent the dress, she did perfect it—making this dress her signature look. By 1975, wrap dresses were being produced at a rate of 15,000 per week. In 1976, home seamstresses could buy the wrap dress pattern along with DvF fabrics to make their own.

The wrap dress is worn by slipping it on as if you are putting on a sweater. Wrap the left side across the body and slide the tie into the buttonhole on the right side seam. Wrap the tie around to the front and tie a bow with the two ties.

Since wrap dresses are often made with jersey or other soft slinky fabrics, lumps and bumps can be visible. Shapewear is the secret to smoothness. The V-shaped neckline of wrap dresses is flattering but can also be a little too revealing. To avoid unsightly gaping, you can wear a camisole or tank top under the dress.

If you want to pin the neckline closed, take care to pin exactly where the layers cross each other, otherwise the pin may pull and create a very obvious attempt of modesty.

The iconic wrap dress continues to be a staple in many women’s closets. It can be styled with cardigans, boleros, or short jackets, and worn with ballet flats or boots. New styles have high-low hemlines—some shorter in the front and others shorter at the side.

They continue to be found in animal prints and other colorful designs as well as in solid colors. Some dresses are two-toned showing one side in one color and the other side in a complementary or contrasting hue. Another new concept is the look of a double-breasted wrap dress.

Millions of wrap dresses have been sold through the years, and it’s easy to understand why. With this simply constructed dress, a woman can look proper or seductive or practical or feminine or professional or any fusion of any desired style.

This dress fits the lifestyle of most women as it is appropriate for both work and play. The wrap dress is said to give the wearer confidence and panache. As Diane von Furstenberg says,

“Feel like a woman . . . wear a dress.”


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