Sophomore year of high school, two weeks before the homecoming dance, I went to the Guess store at my local mall, in a southwest suburb of Chicago. I needed a dress stat, and I couldn’t afford one that I really wanted: a cream-coloured ruffled mini from BCBG. Inside the store, which was nestled between Gap and Chico’s, a navy blue bandage dress — similar to ones worn by Cindy Crawford and Salma Hayek in the ‘90s and Lindsay Lohan and Blake Lively (on the set of the OG Gossip Girl, no less) in the ‘00s — hung on a wall display. I snatched it before some other 15-year-old on a mission (and a limited budget) could and walked tall all the way to the dressing room.
As soon as I’d maneuvered the micro-mini over my body, I knew something was wrong. Not only could I not move or breathe in the sartorial torture device, but I also couldn’t take it off. I spent the next 45 minutes panicking, convincing myself that the only way I could get out of this dress was by hacking the skin-tight bodycon off with whatever sharp item I could find in my backpack. By the time I did pry it off, I was drained. I abandoned shopping for a dress altogether, and ended up re-wearing a beaded Free People dress from the clearance section at Lord & Taylor.
I swore to never subject myself to the dangers of a bandage. Frankly, I thought I’d never have to, with the trend dwindling in popularity by the early 2010s.
Cut to 2021, and bandage dresses, like low-rise jeans, whale tails, baby tees, and a bevy of other Y2K trends, are back. According to the buy-now-pay-later platform, Klarna, searches for skin-tight frocks are also up 233% compared to data from six months ago. Between April and May, bandage-dress searches spiked 25%. The brand everyone wants? No surprise: Hervé Léger, the French fashion house responsible for the It bandage dresses of the '90s and '00s, worn by Crawford, Hayek, Lohan, and Lively, as well as Kim Kardashian, Victoria Beckham, J.Lo, Megan Fox, Rihanna, and Meghan Markle (pre-Sussex). In that same six-month period, searches for Hervé Léger items increased by 60% on Klarna.
The proof’s not only in the data. In January, Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot wore a hot pink Hervé Léger mini dress in a TikTok video that got 11.5 million views and 1.8 million likes (and played a part in inspiring the brand’s resort ‘22 collection). Singer-songwriter Caroline Vreeland wore a bandage jumpsuit by the brand on Instagram in May, while Olivia Palermo donned a two-piece bandage set in June.
This surge in popularity could have something to do with Hervé Léger's new creative director, Christian Juul Nielsen. Prior to joining the company in 2018, Nielsen, who also handles his own luxury brand AKNVAS, worked with names like Nina Ricci, Oscar de la Renta, and Dior, where he designed under both John Galliano and Raf Simons. Though he’s adamant about making Hervé Léger known for something other than just bandage dresses — he created flared yoga pants, sweatshirts, bralettes, and bike shorts out of the brand’s signature form-fitting fabric for the resort '22 collection — he still recognizes the importance of the heritage item. “I always try to do one replica per season,” Nielsen noted in a preview for the collection. “Especially if I find a really good vintage piece.” For the newest collection, he designed the bandage dress with an under-boob cut-out and a puff sleeve.
Nielsen isn’t blind to the brand’s recent uptick in popularity. “In general, this year has been quite good for us,” he said. According to him, that’s because an Hervé Léger dress is the perfect mix of dressed-up and effortless. As the world opens up and weddings, dinner parties, and birthday celebrations spring back to life, people are ready for something sexy. The designer believes that between Hervé Léger’s classic bandage dresses and his new, more modern alternatives for the brand — think: Kermit green corset tops paired with mini skirts, ribbed bodysuits with shoulder cut-outs, and ultra crop tops styled alongside maxi skirts — there’s something for any occasion.
Fashion psychologist Dawnn Karen agrees that shoppers are looking for going-out clothing. “A recent survey from Klarna found that as the world reopens, 71% of consumers plan to dress up more often than they did pre-pandemic,” she tells Refinery29. She notes that, following vaccinations, people are looking for “eye-catching pieces of clothing that are sure to make a statement.” And a statement a Hervé Léger bandage dress most assuredly makes.
She also believes that consumers are using tight clothing, like bandage dresses, as a way of taking back control following a year when very little was up to us. “Fitted fashion gives people a sense of control,” she says. “This is due to the close feeling of the clothes to the body which creates some restriction, and therefore, more control in your body movements. Now that we are going out into the world post-pandemic, [people are craving those boundaries.]”
Then there is the general increase in interest in Y2K fashion, especially among Gen Z'ers on TikTok who are just discovering style staples from the era. Given the bandage dress' place in the '00s, as the ultimate party and red-carpet look, it's no wonder they're coming back now.
As for me? Well, if I’m going to step into a bandage dress in 2021, it damn well better have a zipper.