There is one very effective way to not get involved in unseemly public to-and-fros with one’s enemies and detractors: let your clothes do the talking, and fighting.
And so it was for Rita Ora, subject of the BeyHive’s anger that she might be Jay Z’s secret lover—the poor, hunted “Becky with the good hair”—in the continued fallout of the obsessing over themes of Beyoncé’s latest album, Lemonade.
Then came a picture of her wearing a bra with a lemon design over the nipples.
Now perhaps this was a coincidence, or perhaps it was a taunt, or defiance. But it worked.
Revenge (or quite literal statement) dressing is an art. Ora’s is an intriguing variation on a theme: hers is not a “my heart will go on” dramatic dress, but—if intentional—more a playful and cheeky play-with-fashion emphasizing she will not be menaced or shamed in a publicity circus not originally of her making.
The undisputed leader of the pack when it came to saying FU with a frock was Diana, Princess of Wales, who—on the night that Prince Charles confessed his adultery on television in 1994—attended a function in a dramatic black Christina Stambolian cocktail dress, knocking him visually from the front pages the next morning.
Revenge isn’t just a dish best served cold, it can also be strapless and sparkly.
The key to the revenge dress, as Diana showed, is to say to gawpers, “I am fine. Whatever you’ve read about me, whatever the situation is, I am not hiding.”
And so it was for Jennifer Garner at this year’s Oscars, in a dramatic one-shoulder Atelier Versace dress. The breakdown of her marriage to Ben Affleck so long the subject of tabloid coverage, with her pictured as a busy mom with their kids, the Oscars frock offered an effective, “Yeah, and I’m a movie star too.” (She later joked with Jimmy Fallon that the dress’s tightness had almost killed her.)
Reese Witherspoon wore a strapless Nina Ricci cocktail gown at the 2007 Golden Globes with similar “I’m still standing” intent, as her marriage to Ryan Phillipe crumbled.
Both Gwen Stefani and Mary Louise Parker used very different black dresses to return to the public realm after breakups (with Gavin Rossdale and Billy Crudup respectively).
Sometimes the “revenge dress” can be perceived to be a more emphatic, “See what you’re missing.” After breaking up with Drake, Rihanna wore a see-through, glittering, sheer Adam Selman dress, which was, he said, “just fishnet and crystals and a couple of fingers crossed.”
In 2013, Taylor Swift attended ceremonies in white dresses, variously form-fitting (Calvin Klein at the People’s Choice Awards, and “Grecian goddess” at the Grammys) to deliver Harry Styles an eye-roll at his misfortune not to be in a relationship with her.
In 2010, at the Golden Globes, Jennifer Aniston was even hailed for attaining a “revenge body” against a “tired and bony” Angelina Jolie.
Sometimes the “revenge dressing” is an assertion, like Ora’s, that while public feeling may be against you, this will not leave you whimpering in a corner. Rachel Uchitel, revealed as one of Tiger Woods’s mistresses, took unwelcome infamy as a spur to face the world as an ambassador of casual chic, topped with big Jackie O frames.
Similarly, Christine Ouzounian, rumored to be the nanny that Ben Affleck had an affair with, did not skulk with head down, but instead faced the gossip-mongers looking a dozen definitions of fabulous.
As Maureen O’Connor put it in New York, “She flaunts her scarlet letter like it’s the season’s hottest accessory—and in doing so is building her own modest fan base as a quasi-ironic icon for sexual audacity.”
However it is worn, the “revenge dress” must be worn with steely determination. When she broke up with Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez’s lower-cut dresses were perceived to be “revenge,” whereas in fact they may have just expressed a less directed fashion statement.
At November’s CMA Awards, Miranda Lambert wore a black dress deemed a “revenge dress” following the breakdown of her marriage to Blake Shelton.
But sometimes you have to go to an awards ceremony. Sometimes you just have to show the world you turned up. Lambert’s dress seemed less “revenge” and more, “Still standing, and I cannot wait to get home.”
Not all revenge dresses are about a person who’s wronged you, sometimes they are for your own self-assertion, and your own presence and value. Sometimes they need to do a brilliant sartorial camouflage job on a bad emotional day.
Sometimes, as with Rita Ora’s double-up Gucci skirt and blouse, and bra with lemons, they remind us the wearer is their own person, and not easily intimidated by a fellow star or their fans.
As Diana showed in that attention-grabbing Christina Stambolian dress, living well and passionately proved the best revenge when she split from Prince Charles. Her beauty and charisma formed a devastating photogenic torpedo. Ora should also note the best accessory Diana sported when wearing that Stambolian dress: a defiant, megawatt smile.