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The “strawberry dress” is a $490 pink tulle gown by 24-year-old designer Lirika Matoshi, and it's living “rent-free” in the minds of Gen Z. Girls want it instead of boys, it’s inspired fan art and knock-offs, and its hashtag has over five million views on TikTok.
Everyone is asking how it got so popular—how we got to a point where Matoshi is working 24/7 to fulfill a 738% increase in orders from July to August. Countless articles are crediting TikTok, cottagecore, nostalgia, and the fact that we’re all pretty sick of our quarantine sweatpants. Fewer people are crediting Tess Holliday for helping to start the strawberry dress craze—you know, back when she wore the dress in January to the Grammys, an awards show watched by roughly 18.7 million people. Photographs of Holliday wearing the dress appeared in Cosmopolitan and many other national outlets, and she posted photos and videos of that night on Instagram to her two million followers who commented, “I need this dress” and “I want it ❤️” and asked, "where can we get the dress please love it? 💕.”
“I like how this dress had me on worst-dressed lists when I wore it in January but now bc a bunch of skinny ppl wore it on TikTok everyone cares,” Holliday wrote on both her Instagram and Twitter this week after the onslaught of media coverage.
i really think everyone needs to see this pic.twitter.com/bFxz1X5wl0
— andrew (@lgbtgrayson) August 17, 2020
Googling “Tess Holliday Worst-Dressed Grammys” only turns up one negative hit (Wonderwall called it “too playful,” which is ultimately not that biting). But that’s not the point.
Yes, TikTok cottagecore made the dress the meme of the moment. You cannot deny the power of the platform that’s created both a new type and generation of celebrities. But when we ask ourselves how the dress got so popular, it’s telling that a powerful sex symbol wore the dress to a major event—and it isn’t even part of the main narrative. Holliday’s part in the story is being written off as a mere coincidence.
When the New York Post explained why the dress is so popular, it added the phrase "[e]ven though model Tess Holliday wore the dress on the Grammys red carpet” in January. In Glamour’s piece on the dress, Holliday’s photo appears twice, and yet she isn’t mentioned in the piece at all.
Fashion has always assigned a higher value to thin bodies, and having a well-known celeb be an “even though” and just a photo, not a voice, in the story of how a trend was born feels like fat-phobic erasure. “What’s considered ‘trendy,’ whether a bandage dress or high-waisted jorts, is always determined by whether or not an influential thin person is willing to opt in. Anyone else risks becoming a punchline,” Amanda Richards wrote for InStyle.com earlier this year.
a tweet making fun of these women has 100k likes but i swear to god if bella hadid wore this exact outfit it would be on a million "80s casual inspo ❤️" pinterest boards bc, as always, fashion is judged exclusively by the bodies that wear it pic.twitter.com/eBZ6P3Zrmh
— rayne fisher-quann (@raynefq) July 14, 2020
When I worked at Salty, a newsletter for women, trans individuals, and non-binary people, it published a report on how Instagram algorithms censor fat bodies, citing that amongst those surveyed, plus-sized and body-positive profiles were lagged for “sexual solicitation” or “excessive nudity” at a higher rate. I read countless messages from plus-sized influencers and business owners whose accounts had been deleted—despite not posting nudity. Instagram even temporarily banned the hashtag #curvy, saying it was “consistently being used to share content that violates our guidelines around nudity.” TikTok has also admitted to suppressing videos by disabled, queer, and fat creators.
Clearly, it’s a lot easier to start a fashion trend when the internet isn’t deleting, shadow-banning, and burying your body. It’s so disappointing to see a fat woman like Holliday get little to no credit for contributing to the biggest fashion moment we’ve seen in years. Google searches for “strawberry dress” may have first spiked in July, but millions saw it on Holliday months earlier. TikTok turned the tide, but Holliday launched an earlier wave of influence.
Now, you don’t have to like Holliday to agree that fat people are routinely pushed into the margins; however, you have to acknowledge that it’s part of a bigger issue and that people of all sizes are trendsetters and deserve credit for the power they wield.