Each year, a myriad of eye-catching dresses compete for recognition as the dress of the season. Even though you’ll most likely know at least five other people who already own it and have posed in it for an Instagram photo, it's still the must-have wardrobe item to invest in. Thanks to the infamous social media platform, and the way that social media has democratised fashion, these ‘it’ dresses spread like wildfires, with the success of ‘cult’ favourites such as Topshop’s spring florals, Zara’s viral polka dots and Ganni’s seersucker gingham in part coming down to the power of influencers. Has the influence that Instagram has had on the most covetable ‘cult dresses’ quashed the value of these ubiquitous items, or does their status as universally chic and flattering fail-safe pieces hold sway despite their pervasiveness?
It's hard not to get caught up in the crowd and break away from the mainstream, especially when a flattering, cool one-piece is the perfect wardrobe essential, a fail- safe number to take the stress out of getting dressed. From the aforementioned high- street favourites to cult frocks among street-stylers and FROW-goers found on the rails at RIXO and Réalisation in the form of bold 80s-inspired prints and romantic spring florals respectively. Its pulling power lies in an easy-to-wear, flattering on all shapes and sizes style, and a standout print. The key to becoming an ‘it’ dress –an embodiment the season’s biggest trends juxtaposed, with classic yet statement- making prints and OTT feminine shapes reigning supreme in the current landscape of cult dresses. The success of each head-turner destined for cult status is measured in its online omnipresence, evident in the @hot4spot Instagram account documenting the popularity of Zara’s infamous summer polka dot florals, or in the plethora of online magazine articles it becomes the subject of – apparently six members of staff at British Vogue invested in Ganni’s neon green gingham piece this summer. If you’re looking for an investment piece that’s versatile enough to dress up or down according to occasions, you know where to find it.
The power of social media to transform a covetable piece from a one-of-a-kind to inescapably ubiquitous for some might be a source of sartorial solidarity, for others one of embarrassment. Investing in a statement piece that makes you feel joyful when wearing it suddenly doesn’t spark so much joy when everyone else is also wearing it, all over the streets and your feed. Thanks to their pervasiveness on social media among fashion insiders and Instagram A-listers, there seems to be a correlation between how soon a dress’ status as a cult piece expires and how much we are visually exposed to it online, so that we feel less inclined to wear it in protest against the quashing of individuality.
There exists a sort of oxymoron in society today – we are in the golden age of thriving fast fashion, yet sustainability is perhaps the most pressing issue facing the fashion industry. While a cult dress might seem like a wardrobe investment bought to last, a trusty, reliable number to return to when in sartorial doubt, the one-in, one-out cycle of cult dresses is just as guilty of encouraging consumption. The influence that Instagram has on the existence of cult pieces means that, like trends, the relevance of cult dresses blows up, and then expires, as the next frock swiftly comes along to take its place. And when it does, we’re left with outdated pieces that were once the most covetable wardrobe essential. Their power as the trendiest, most wearable dress might last a season or so, but their intrinsic link to social media means their societal relevance is more time-sensitive than ever. I wonder if we’ll still be seeing those black and white polka dots next year.
Words by Ruby McAuliffe
Graphics by Katie Janes