Kim Kardashian has retired her collection of Bodycon dresses—and so should we.
By we, I mean the number of eBay customers who purchased over 500,000 of the hip-hugging dresses from the online retail site between March 1 and May 23—a shocking 200 percent increase in sales of the style from the year before.
In the mid-to-late ’90s, when Bodycon (short for body-conscious) first became popularized as the style of dress to be seen in, astonishingly high sales were hardly a surprise. But, nearly a decade and a half after the first bandage dress was introduced by designer Hérve Peugnet (the French brainchild behind label Hervé Léger), it’s difficult to understand how such a trend-driven piece is still raking in large amounts of cash. Over 15 years later, it’s officially time for Bodycon to die.
“My dresses are designed for women who are at ease with their bodies,” Léger told Vogue in 1992 of his frocks, crafted from stretchy, figure-hugging fabric like viscose or silk woven with Lycra. The New York Times described his dresses as akin to wearing an “Ace bandage;” they mold to fit every inch of a woman’s shape—and it doesn’t matter that they were made from material that was considered, at the time, garbage. Showing off one’s curves in a silhouette that holds things in tight (it was, in ways, the high-fashion form of Spanx) was seen as seductive (“I’m in favor of seductive clothes, the designer told People magazine in 1994. “Seduction isn’t diabolical—it’s essential.”). And, of course, Bodycon dresses were sexy…when they were clinging to the hips of Victoria Beckham, Cindy Crawford, Iman, and Tyra Banks.
The thing about most trends, however, is that they typically fade. While Léger was credited with the creation of the now iconic style (although there is some historical discrepancy as to whether the “King of Cling,” Azzedine Alaia, is actually responsible for the trend), he was also pigeonholed into association with an article of clothing that has, somewhere along the way, made a transition from classy to trashy. Maybe it had something to do with Léger’s label being purchased by the BCBG Max Azria group in September 1998, but the sleek mini-dresses once favored by supermodels soon lost their allure as they became popular in the mass market.
After a nine-year hiatus, Hervé Léger was re-launched under Max Azria’s direction in 2007, garnering a new cult-like following of Bodycon consumers that one would assume Leger himself would have preferred not to be associated with. The label’s aesthetic began to be less “sexy” and instead screamed “trashy.” Its designs were seen (all too frequently) on nearly every member of the Kardashian clan and many of the hard-partying, Lindsay Lohan train wrecks of the world (how can anyone forget that rainbow number Lilo wore?), not to mention the slew of Snooki and J. Wow look-a-likes clubbing the night away at the Jersey Shore. In November of that year, The New York Times dubbed the style “The Pour-Me-Into-It Party Dress,” and Bodycon soon became strictly associated with a “girls gone wild” type of lifestyle.
Léger was certainly onto something when he designed a dress that kept all of a woman’s body imperfections sucked in—creating that enviable hourglass figure for almost anyone who wanted it. The problem was not so much the style of the dress (although it did break the rule that one should only bare legs or breasts, not both), but rather guilt by association. When a fashion trend becomes a favorite of reality show darlings (who often forget that squeezing into a dress two sizes too small doesn’t give them curves—it makes them look like they’re bursting at the seams), it’s time to call it quits.
Sure, many of today’s designers—Christopher Kane, Proenza Schouler, Versace, Preen, and Robert Rodriguez, for example—have pulled inspiration from the niche market that Léger seemingly created, modernizing the skin-tight ensemble. But, as Vogue highlighted in 2009, bondage dresses had become a staple solely of twenty-somethings, girls who “made the eighties theirs, viewing it with the kind of nostalgia you can only ever really feel when you yearn for the excitement of an era you never properly experienced.” If that’s what the magazine had to say about Bodycon five years ago, I’d hate to hear its opinion on the subject matter now. Or, rather, its opinion on why thousands of people are still paying over $1,000 to look like high-priced hookers.