Why is this Zara polka-dot dress such a hit? ‘It’s horrendous on me’

A relatively shapeless, mid-length dress from Zara is the unexpected viral hit of summer

Zara’s polka-dot dress. Photograph: Zara

Zara’s polka-dot dress. Photograph: Zara

 

Zara has produced an unexpected viral hit this summer: a relatively shapeless, long-sleeved, mid-length polka-dot dress.

It has not been seen on any celebrities, royals or otherwise well-known faces (yet), but press coverage is mounting: the New York Times declared it the dress that had “conquered Britain”; the Sun called it “THE” outfit of the summer (can a dress can be classed as an entire “outfit”?); and the Telegraph asked “Why is everyone wearing the same Zara dress as me?”. Zara has even gone as far as to label it The Polka Dress, as if no others exist – despite there being several in that pattern in their own current summer collection.

An Instagram account has been set up by London-based stylist Faye Oakenfull in response to this popularity – Hot4theSpot, which has more than 11,000 followers. Its content is made up of photographs submitted by followers, taken of themselves or others (including strangers) in the dress, with its oldest subject to date an 86-year-old woman, Beryl.

Zara’s polka-dot dress. Photograph: Zara via The New York Times
Zara’s polka-dot dress. Photograph: Zara via The New York Times

In the name of good journalism, I went to try on The Polka Dot Dress at Zara on King Street South in Dublin city centre. The rail was full of sizes, and as I queued for the fitting room, three other women also lined up who were holding the dress; the reject rack inside also featured several of the polka-dot number. I will acknowledge at this point that I am not what may be classed a “standard size”. Despite being a 12-14, at just shy of six foot, with an inseam of 36ins, my options for clothes can be limited. Dresses, however, usually fit easily enough.

I tried two sizes on in The Polka Dot Dress of the season, and it looked horrendous. The shoulders were too narrow in the smaller size, while the entire dress was too big in the larger. I’ll grant that the length was decent, as it hit me mid-calf, but despite not being a small person, I was swamped in polka-dot fabric. And, although I’m generally a fan of loose-fitting clothing, this was just sack-like.

‘Sack-like’: Polly Dennison in The Polka Dot Dress of the season.
‘Sack-like’: Polly Dennison in The Polka Dot Dress of the season.

The fuss

So, what is all the fuss about? It’s not a particularly obvious candidate for the level of sensation which has followed its release.

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Sonya Lennon of Lennon Courtney says that, as the dress is both a simple shape and black and white polka dot, it’s a “safe” option: “We’ve seen a shift in silhouettes towards looser shapes,” she says. “It’s a level of print that’s not scary; it’s white and black, which isn’t scary. It’s a little bit of a statement.”

Una Mullally, Irish Times journalist, says she finds it interesting because it is so unremarkable. She suggests it has been so popular because it is out of step with current trends: “It’s a conservative, almost utilitarian piece of clothing, which speaks to the practical desire people often have for something simple and versatile amongst all the noise.”

The dress has become so popular, that Zara has restocked it in several locations – the wisdom of which Lennon questions: “You sort of kill the golden goose then. For us at Lennon Courtney, we never re-run something. When you do, you risk saturating the market and then the next time, people might think they’re buying something special but will see it everywhere.”

But Oakenfull says women and people wearing the dress are having fun with its popularity: “Instead of feeling awkward about it, they’re just owning it and literally high-fiving each other in the street. It’s the sisterhood at its best.”

Zara has labelled the dress ‘The Polka Dress’
Zara has labelled the dress ‘The Polka Dress’

Oakenfull says that she has been contacted by a small number of women saying that, although they usually wear a size 22 and ordinarily do not fit into Zara clothing, the polka-dot dress has fit them: “They’re actually being able to wear the same on-trend pieces as everyone else.”

Zara’s sizing only extends to XXL – about an 18 – and many pieces are only available in-store up to XL, about a 16. A 2017 survey in the UK found the average woman was 5 ft 5ins and a size 16. When I fill in Zara’s “Find my Size” calculator on the page for the polka-dot dress with my height and weight, despite there being stock in every size from XS-XL, I’m told that the “appropriate size is not available” – they’ve got that right.

Zara – and others on the high street – have been criticised for their lack of options in size; the Guardian has described the chain as a “theatre of cruelty” for plus-size shoppers. A 2017 advertisement from Zara telling women to “love their curves”, despite the fact they stock no clothing for women larger than a size 16-18 was also criticised both in press and on social media.

Lennon says providing a broader range of clothing is a thorny and complex issue: “The problem is that, commercially, it makes more sense to sell to the greater numbers – the middle ground.

She acknowledges that it’s a “bugbear for people who fall into the peripheries” in terms of sizes available. “Women who require larger clothing often think it is a question of needing more fabric, and therefore the garment costs more to make but it is just as difficult to find petite and smaller sizes on the high street.”

Zara did not respond to request for comment on the dress, or their range of sizes for women.

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