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The Enduring Tyranny Of The Wrap Dress

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2018 will be remembered for many things. The year football almost came home. The winter Narnia almost came to life. The summer we all discovered it was possible to sweat while still in the shower. But for me, 2018 will always be the year I tried on 5632 wrap dresses and nearly lost my mind.

I've started to think it might be a conspiracy. Wrap dresses are everywhere. They’re all over the high street and all over Instagram, in every length and print, fabric and price point. Formal, fancy wrap dresses. Casual, beachy wrap dresses. Floral ones, spotty ones, cotton ones, silky ones. Réalisation Par’s much-copied flippy minis and Ganni’s cool, fluttering midis. Wraps are presented as a kind of sartorial allen key to unlock every dress code imaginable, for every type of dress-wearer – but especially for those of us who tend to be awkward about it. Us, with our inconvenient, unfashionable bodies getting in the way of a nice 2D design. All we hear is how flattering wrap dresses are and how easy they are to wear, which is code for ‘here, hips and tits brigade, don’t say we never give you anything!’

And yet... I think people are lying, guys. Or else, brainwashed. We’ve internalised the great wrap dress fallacy to the point where we believe it even when we are literally wearing the evidence to the contrary. It reminds me of an excellent 2012 Slate article on why so many recipe writers lie about how long it takes to caramelise onions. They tell us onions will caramelise in five minutes; they tell us wrap dresses are a fuss-free gift for the voluptuous lady. But they will not and they are not, and would everyone please stop fibbing?

Historically the wrap dress has a mixed lineage, from the sublime (Cybill Shepherd in Taxi Driver, all clinging rayon and sharp collared sexiness) to the downright dowdy. The last time round, Trinny and Susannah used to prescribe the wrap dress (and the wrap top, and the wrap cardigan) to anyone over a size 12 as a kind of cure-all antibiotic. Their 2002 body shaming bible What Not To Wear, in a quote I don’t even need to look up because I still remember it verbatim, explains that a wrap is perfect for big tits because it neatly divides ‘your God-given two, as opposed to a deformed one.’ The result was several years of women slavishly binding themselves into wrap dresses, trying to keep their wayward boobs apart with a determined wall of jersey.

Even now, their advice irks off on two separate levels. The official level: stop making us feel our bodies are problems that need to be fixed and concealed! But also, the guilty level: you liars, it doesn’t even work!

Because anyone with ample boobs who has tried to wear a wrap dress knows that the result is usually something I can only call ‘falling-open dressing gown syndrome’. There’s rarely enough fabric to contain anything more than a C-cup, and even when there is the tie belt doesn’t have the structural resistance to keep the dress in place. This means you end up clutching it shut all day, like a person who has been evacuated from their Champneys massage by a fire and been forced to stand semi-clad in the car park.

Likewise the bottom half looks totally functional standing up, but parts like the Red Sea as soon as you sit down, flaps open in the slightest breeze, and creeps between your legs as you walk so you have to stop every few paces and fish it out again.

Now, none of this is to say that the bodacious cleavage or regular crotch-flashes are something to be ashamed of. Obviously. This is 2018 and damnit, a woman can walk round with her bra and pants out if she wants to. It’s just that most of us, given the choice, don’t want to. Not on a Tuesday. Not to the supermarket. And this is before we even discuss other impracticalities, like how many times a week the ties accidentally go in the toilet. Nothing makes you feel less fash than standing in a public loo, dangling your belt into a Dyson Airblade.

I know all this, so why can’t I seem to call it a wrap on wraps?

This summer it’s fair to say I've been more committed to Project Wrap Dress than I was to my A levels. I've bought so many online and sent them all back. I've tried on endless variations, swanky brands and cheap brands and all that lies between. Multiple times I’ve thought I was ready to admit defeat, only to find myself a day later back in the & Other Stories changing rooms, crying and trying to shove my tits into my armpits.

And maybe I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, but against all the odds I still believe there’s a wrap dress out there somewhere that will look great on me. I just don’t know if I have the stamina to keep looking. Remember in Sex and the City when Miranda says ‘Why isn't there a store called '’This is The Crib For You” and they just have one great crib?’ That is how I feel about wrap dresses.

True, there have been a few almost-successes. I bought this green stork-print number by Danish brand Y.A.S, and was so thrilled it fitted that I ripped the tag off before I realised it made me feel frumpy in the extreme. I found a good fake wrap from Whistles, which can’t fall open, though it still needs a strategic safety pin in the middle. And in a reckless moment after three solid months of searching, I splurged on Rixo’s daisy-print Abigail dress and sewed the top and bottom shut. It’s amazing how many of my fashion adventures end with ‘...and then I sewed it shut!’

But the hunt continues, because I don’t want a DIY bodge job; I want the real thing. I will find my perfect wrap dress, one that covers my tits and arse and looks cool and breezy and effortless and not like a librarian in a stock image. And knowing my luck I will find it on the exact day that everyone else stops wearing them. Then I’ll keep it in the wardrobe for 15 years, and next time, I’ll be ready.