When Diane von Furstenberg debuted her iconic wrap dress five decades ago it revolutionised how women dressed. If only I had the body for one, says SARAH VINE

The deep, sexy V; the casual, fluid lines; the long, close-fitting sleeves; the silken, sensuous jersey. Could there be anything more chic than a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress? Or, for that matter, the woman who wears one? 

Jerry Hall, Michelle Obama, Kate Moss, Madonna, even the Princess of Wales – all have succumbed to its charms. And as this iconic garment enters its 50th year, its popularity shows no sign of waning.

All my life I have wanted to belong to the DVF club, to be one of those fabulously cool Studio 54-style chicks who can just slide one on and stride out, all casual in a pair of espadrilles, or sexy in some fabulous knee-high boots.

Diane von Furstenberg in an early iteration of her silk-jersey wrap dress, 1973

Diane von Furstenberg in an early iteration of her silk-jersey wrap dress, 1973

I cannot tell you how much I aspire to be that kind of woman, how much I love a wrap dress.

If only they loved me. But they don’t. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that they have it in for me. Wrap dresses – especially of the DVF kind (other brands are available) – are designed for a very particular female body type.

Born in the 1970s, they very much adhere to the prevailing aesthetic of the day – that is to say, slim shoulders, tidy arms, small, well-mannered breasts and neat behinds.

 The sort of body you used to see in adverts for Charlie perfume (another youthful obsession of mine) or draped over the bonnet of a car in a men’s magazine. The kind that is either the result of fortuitous genes or a strict diet of Quaaludes and vodka, or that infamous egg-and-wine diet popularised by Vogue in the 70s.

Diane wearing a leopard-print version with Andy Warhol in 1974, the year it was launched

Diane wearing a leopard-print version with Andy Warhol in 1974, the year it was launched 

If you have anything approximating a curvy shape – in my case rather vulgar and unruly knockers, a bit of a tummy and extremely stubborn bingo wings – they just make you look like Humpty Dumpty.

Even when I was young and theoretically svelte, I could never make them work. The wrap bit never quite sufficed to cover my chest, which meant I always had to wear them with a slip, completely ruining the vibe.

The sleeves were always far too tight on my arms, cutting off the circulation and bringing to mind unflattering comparisons with sausages.

But still I tried. Over the years I’ve wasted so much money in search of the perfect wrap dress, in much the same way that I buy juicers in the hope of becoming Deliciously Ella, but they just end up unworn in my wardrobe before being shuffled off, after an appropriate period, to the charity shop.

Jerry Hall in the 1970s

Iman in the 1980s

Jerry Hall in the 1970s; Iman in the 1980s

Madonna in 2000s

The Princess of Wales in 2010s

Madonna in 2000s; The Princess of Wales in 2010s

Only last week I dispatched the final one – not a DVF but a Biba imitation from a few years ago, from that collaboration with House of Fraser. I had been hanging on to it in the vague hope that I would one day try it on and find that all those pilates sessions had finally turned me into a wrap dress girl, but alas no. ‘Who are you trying to kid?’

The wrap dress manages to be alluring without seeming tart or adhering to “sexy” clichés

I thought to myself as I examined my reflection in my bedroom mirror. ‘You’re 56. That DVF wrap dress ship has sailed.’

Von Furstenberg herself always described the dress as a symbol of female emancipation and sexual freedom. She has been compared to Coco Chanel for her role in liberating the female form from the constraints of wiring and tailoring. 

Emma Thompson in 2020s

 Emma Thompson in 2020s

And while it’s true that the wrap dress is theoretically adjustable and very comfortable to wear, in some ways its clean lines and simplicity, like Chanel’s, actually introduced another form of body tyranny – the requirement for women to be thin, a notion that became the dominant beauty standard of the 70s and has remained so through to the modern day.

Ultimately, though, the success of the wrap dress is, I think, that it makes women of a certain slimline body type feel sexy, without making them feel vulnerable.

Short skirts, strappy dresses, sheer material – these are things that may seem pleasing to the opposite sex, but which are, ultimately, quite limiting, awkward and restrictive to the wearer, and very obviously designed to satisfy the male gaze.

The wrap dress, by contrast, manages to be alluring without seeming tarty or adhering to any of the ‘sexy’ clichés. It is flirtatious while allowing the wearer to remain elegant and in control, as appropriate in the boardroom as it is on a bar stool, cocktail in hand. That is its power, and ultimately the secret of its eternal allure.

If only I had the body to wear it.

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