Who created the BodyCon Dress? An Interesting History of the Body Conscious Style

4 Mar

bodycon coral

The Body con dress. It has become a go to look for a night out. But where did it originate? Who created the look of the body con? This question sent me on a study that went beyond my expectations. For the short version, watch the video. For all the juicy details of the origins of this “body conscious” silhouette, read on!

Above are a few looks from the current era of the body con dress. Mid-thigh length, form-fitting with lots of stretch in the fabric. Currently very trendy are versions with lace, mesh or some sort of transparency at the back or sleeves. Also, the illusion body con with color blocking techniques placed specifically to enhance the hour glass feminine shape.

So lets travel a little over a decade back. What did the body con look like in the 90’s? Well.. very similar.

The 90’s was the peak of the body con dress trend. A quick google search will lead you to believe that Herve Leger invented the Bandage Dress in 1989, (originally called “the bender” because of how it bends and molds the figure.) Here are some of Leger’s creations from the early 90’s.

This is where it gets deep! The REAL “King of Cling” (as he was dubbed in the 80’s) is Azzedine Alaia. Leger studied under Alaia- who was making body con and badge dresses in the early 1980’s. So why is Leger credited and so highly praised for his invention of the bandage dress and overall body con look?

alaia

Have you ever seen The Devil Wears Prada? The movie depicting the harsh world of fashion and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour? If so- that movie wasn’t far from reality when it comes to her attempt to run a dictatorship in the fashion industry. Alaia wasn’t afraid of Wintour, and he refused to walk on eggshells for her. He didn’t respect her taste level and wasn’t afraid to say it. This, among other instances concerning models, his designs and strong opinions got him on Wintour’s bad side. This is what comes up when you search Herve Leger on Voguepedia. A whole history of how he invented and created the bandage dress with little mention of Alaia. This is what comes up in Voguepedia when you search Azzedine Alaia:

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 9.43.44 PM

No coincidence there.

Check out this shot of Alaia’s 1986 collection:

azzedine-alaia-fashion-show-paris-1986

Yeah, 1986! These dresses are so timeless, they look like a staple piece of today. And he showed these almost 30 years ago, 3 years before Leger’s “breakout” collection!

More timeless pieces from Alaia:

But this “body conscious” silhouette did not just appear out of thin air. Check out a few more 80’s dresses from other contemporary designers with slim fits, similar to the body con dress:

As we move further back into the 1970’s, the slim silhouette is still prevalent. Slinky polyester fabrics are popular and comfortable. Check out the 70’s dresses below.

These 1960’s “wiggle dresses” are definitely a precursor to the 70’s slim dresses. TV shows like Mad Men and vintage enthusiasts wearing 60’s inspired looks keep these classics alive today.

supremes

The Supremes rocked these super sexy dresses while performing in the 60’s. Shorten that hemline and I’d go out in one Friday night!

And let’s not forget Paco Rabanne, who famously created the chain mail dresses in the 60’s! Check out the silhouette of his designs. No, they are not the tight form fitting material of the body con, but clearly there is evolution happening here.

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In the 1950’s the precursor to the wiggle: the “sheath dress”, was the figure flattering must have for the modern post war women. Keep in mind also that the pinup era was alive and well into the 50’s. Stars like Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page were flaunting curves in sexy sheath’s. Monroe even wears one with the now popular transparent paneling.

1940’s Sheath dresses were shown in both slinky body hugging silhouettes and those a bit looser from the body made with slightly heavier fabrics like wool blends.

Another important fashion factor of the 1940’s was the swimwear. Check out these swimsuits that look undeniably like the body con’s we wear today. Add another 4″ to the hem, and Bam! Club dress! The one in the second photo with the green and white color blocking blows my mind at how similar it is to the trendy illusion dresses of today.

40s suit

1940s-surfers_289

Moving on to the 1930’s. The sheath dress is a bit longer and loser, worn in cotton fabrics. But there are still stars like Jean Harlow in full on Hollywood Glam, tight, silky gowns. Extremely conscious of the body. (I mean, hey, she refused to wear undergarments!)

The 1920’s. The anti-fashion era. The boxy, straight, drop waist silhouette. A rebellion of the constricting styles of previous years. The jazz era was full of sequins and feathers and cool short styled hair cuts.

The fashion shift of the 1920’s was due to a new generation rebelling against constraining, and even ridiculous looks like the hobble skirt of the 1910’s.

1910s

hobbleskirts1914

Postcards were made poking fun at the image of a woman in a hobble skirt.

Hobble Skirt Card 1912 hobble ad 1910s hobble

Corsets were also worn under the dresses, molding the female figure.

corset 1910s

1900’s corsets were even more extreme. Pulling the waist in TIGHT and propping up the bust. Even pregnant women wore corsets in the 1900’s.

1900s-Pregnancy-fashion-photolist

Fashion in the 1900’s was very contoured and body conscious. Accenting the waist, hips and chest, the look was like an hourglass or “S” shape. Check out the 2 street style shots by Edward Linley Sambourne! Another look of the time was oriental inspiration- very ornate and decorative pieces.

Going back from the 1900’s only gets more and more constrained and layered. Back into bustles, crinolines and so on. I could go all the way back to the Egyptian Kalasiris. (Slim fitting dresses worn by women of ancient Egypt.) True origination of the “Body Con” look is nearly impossible to trace. Just like inspiration, it’s something that can be recognized within a culture or era, but finding exact placement and credit is impossible.

So it seems that from the 1900’s until now, the body conscious look has gone from being prevalent- even ridiculous and degrading, to rebelled against in the 20’s, found again due to Hollywood glam and pinup in the 30’s and 40’s, emerging heavily again in the 50’s and 60’s with wiggle dresses, and flowing on into the 70’s with comfy knit and polyester mini dresses, and finally exploding again in the 80’s with Alaia’s bandage look, Leger’s copying, and us now wearing tight, short, semi-see through and illusion dresses that resemble swim suits from the 1940’s. WOW! This is still what I consider a very short version of the story. There are many influences and inspirations that we may never know. Now more than ever we endure the infinite media cycle where trends spread like wildfire and style advice (good or bad) is only as far as our fingertips. Where will the body conscious silhouette go from here? Will we see another cycle of rebellion to looser looks? Or become more ornate and decorated than before? History shows us the lessons and possibilities, but does not tell us the future. We make the decision there. The fun part is making your mark no matter what is trending.

Thoughts?

xo,

A.Rozier

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5 Responses to “Who created the BodyCon Dress? An Interesting History of the Body Conscious Style”

  1. lara March 28, 2014 at 10:27 pm #

    Cool article! I am HUGE Leger and Alaia fan, and I will admit their designs are similar. However I think Leger is credited with not creating, but making the bandage dress such a huge part of fashion history because the bandage dress was his thing, and I think he did popularize it far more than Alaia did. Alaia’s trademark and Leger’s is bodycon, but Alaia’s is more bodycon, less bandage whereas Leger’s is both. They are both extremely talented, and one thing I love is that neither of them have ever laid claim that they invented the bandage dress. They accredit the bodycon and bandage trend to history dating back to as early as the ancient Egyptians. In regards to Leger training under Alaia, I have never heard that before. I know Leger trained under Lagerfeld, Lanvin and Charles Jourdan, but never Alaia.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Body Con Dress | illustrated fashion alphabet - July 17, 2014

    […] While designer Hervé Léger is most well-known for the body con style (aka the Bandage Dress) which he released in 1989, another designer – Azzedine Alaia (under whom Léger apparently trained) was also wrapping women in figure hugging stretch fabrics, creating dresses that look quite similar to the bandage dress – check here for some examples. […]

  2. Meu acervo: Barbie Herve Leger | Barbies Collectors - May 1, 2015

    […] Max Azria; Foto: https://lifeasaroze.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/who-created-the-bodycon-dress-an-interesting-history-of… […]

  3. Herve Leger’s famous “bandage” dress is not for voluptuous women or lesbians, an executive says - Quartz - August 17, 2015

    […] he didn’t invent it—that credit perhaps belongs to Azzedine Alaïa, who Leger once worked for. But bandage dresses have been extremely popular since, their fans including celebrities such as […]

  4. Bandage dress Платье Бандаж — Styleaks Стайликс - September 2, 2016

    […] Бодикон и Платье Бандаж […]

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