Wrap dresses have been popular for about as long as they existed, largely due to their universally flattering shape and ease of wear. It’s as much a staple in most women’s wardrobes as a classic white tee, or a pair of black stilettos. But where did they come from and how have they evolved since Diane Von Furstenberg catapulted them into mainstream fashion in the 1970s? Let’s take a deep dive…
What is a Wrap Dress?
A wrap dress is a dress that’s typically open like a kaftan, and requires tying around the side of the waist to create a closed wrap-around design. There are actually two different types of wrap dress.
- An open wrap dress that requires actual wrapping. It has a front closure, made by wrapping one side across the other and tying closed into a V shaped neckline.
- A closed dress that replicates the silhouette of a wrap dress. It has the illusion of a wrap, but doesn’t require you to wrap the dress. These types of dresses are also known as wrap front and wrap style dresses.
Timeline of the wrap dress
- Diane Von Fustenburg is often credited with inventing the wrap dress in 1974.
- BUT, it was actually invented decades earlier by a designer called Charles James in the 1930s.
- James nicknamed it “the taxi dress” because he wanted it to be a dress you could slide in or out of in the back of a taxi.
- In the 1940s, a designer named Clare McCardell designed a version of the wrap dress (quite cutely) called “the popover” in response to the busy lifestyle that came with living during WW2. It went from garden coverup to something you could pop on over a swimsuit, trousers, on its own as a dress or even as a jacket.
- 30 years later, Diane Von Furstenberg arrives in New York with a suitcase of jersey and starts experimenting.
- Her first iteration was not a dress at all but a wrap top and skirt.
- She saw her eventual designs as “easy little dresses” rather than the iconic fashion staples they would become.
- Nowadays, the wrap dress is popular with all kinds of women, but particularly women in politics, with Michelle Obama and Kate Middleton repeatedly adopting the style.
Types of wrap dresses
Wrap dresses are renowned for their practicality, which is only exaggerated when you add sleeves. We love this pink option from Pretty Lavish. All the glamour of old school Hollywood, and all the comfort of a posh hotel bath robe.
✔️Works in the winter
✔️Minimal accessorising required
Maxi wrap dresses
Wedding season always brings about a fresh set of what-to-wear nightmares. Our motto: If in doubt, maxi wrap dress. Our bestselling Mia dress is a no-brainer if you want to stand out without outstaging the bride (too much).
Mini wrap dresses
Sometimes, wrap dresses get (unfairly) labelled with the matronly tag. To avoid this, go for a mini length for balance. We’re currently obsessed with this long sleeve mini dress in copper. Saturday night material that you can wear a normal bra with? Where do I sign?
✔️ Ideal for a night out
Wrap dresses to suit every body
If we look at how the wrap dress is designed, it’s pretty easy to see why it’s so popular. The tie waist accentuates a traditionally feminine aesthetic, while the adjustable V neckline gives you full cleavage control. So, whether you’re short or tall, big-boobed or small-boobed, you can easily find a wrap dress that feels like it’s been made just for you.
How to Tie a Wrap Dress
- Throw on the open wrap dress as you would any cardigan or jacket
- Pull the tie strings through the eye holes, which typically sit under the chest or at the back of the dress
- No holes? No worries. In this instance, tie the strings over themselves before tying
- Gather the strings toward the side of your body
- Tie into a simple bow, which you can let drape loosely down the side of your body
- If you want to create a literal boobie-trap, ensure it’s tied tightly to avoid gaping
Want to create a slightly sexier look with a deep plunge neckline? Cara shows you how to do just that with the Yondal dress in the video below.
Styling Wrap Dresses
Wrap dresses for a night out
An LBD is a non-negotiable when it comes to your night-out arsenel, and black wrap dresses take the stress out of your Saturday night indecision altogether. Take this long-sleeve mini wrap dress from Foreva Young. It works all year round, looks effortlessly put-together, and you can wear your ugliest bra with it if you want to. Style with a simple strappy sandal, fine gold jewellery, and a statement bag to bring the look together.
Wrap dresses for a wedding
Florals are a hands-down favourite print for weddings, so a floral wrap dress like this one from Love Sunshine might seem an obvious choice. However, unlike some floral dresses which can be a touch on the matronly side, the v-neckline and centre-slit here keep it cool, modern and out of the 50s-housewife zone. Florals tend to be quite busy so we recommend a zero-jewellery policy and simple heels for optimal chic.
Wrap dresses for holiday
A white wrap dress is ideal for holidays for a number of reasons. It’s light and summery, it’s quick to change into and you can use it as a beach coverup during the day. Time-saving and space-saving? Double win. Our go to is the Plunge Maxi in white. But we are also partial to it in blue and coral, too. Style with natural accessories (think straw, wood, tortoiseshell) for an updated bohemian vibe.
Wrap dresses for work
Leopard print and work are not exactly “iconic duo” status, but leopard print wrap dresses are surprisingly desk-friendly. Take this midi from Kate & Pippa. The subtle print, shirt-like collar and midi length give it the sophistication necessary to pass any office dress codes, from business-casj to strictly corporate. Like florals, the print is busy enough that you can ditch jewellery altogether and keep the accessories to a minimum.
Are wrap dresses flattering?
Wrap dresses are extremely flattering, tying you in at the waist and accentuating your curves to create an hourglass silhouette.
How to breastfeed in a wrap dress?
To breastfeed in a wrap dress, the most important thing is that you buy an open wrap dress that you can loosen, as opposed to a closed “fake” wrap dress that just gives the illusion of a wrap dress. This will give you the freedom to untie the dress for easy boob access.