Victoria Beckham wearing Herve Leger bandage dress on the party
When Herve Leger’s bandage dress was first launched in the 1980s, I had already given my heart to another homage to elasticity, an Azzedine Alaïa black stretchy sheath so flattering to the figure that one of my friends borrowed it whenever she wanted to seduce a man, and labelled it 'result-wear’, such was her confidence in its powers.
I wish I knew what had become of the Alaïa dress – it’d be worth a small fortune now, as a prized vintage piece – but the herve leger dresses has been relaunched by Leger’s new designer, Max Azria, and become a regular feature on the red carpet. Lindsay Lohan wore a strapless multicoloured version, a rainbow bandage, as if to display a sunny optimism after her stint in rehab; and Cheryl Cole has been out and about in a green one, presenting a brave face to the world, whatever the tabloid speculation about the state of her marriage. But nobody has yet bettered Elizabeth Hurley’s statement dressing in 1995, soon after her then boyfriend, Hugh Grant, had confessed to 'a moment of madness’ with a Hollywood prostitute. Her white Leger frock – worn to a film première – suggested that Hurley was innocent, and utterly removed from any impure encounters; but also served as a reminder that she had a fabulous body, and was not too wounded to fight back.
Of course, there are mixed messages that emanate from a bandage dress, not least the troubling insinuation that a woman’s body is a wound that needs to be healed. We are asked to admire the wearer’s figure – this is the closest form you can get to nakedness while still remaining fully clothed – but it’s tempting to question the motives. Was it coincidence that Kate Winslet wore a bandage dress to the premiere of The Reader, a film about complicity, among other things, in which she managed to look glamorous in a sober shade of grey?
Which brings us to the other favourite celebrity dress of the year: the Preen Power dress, worn by Sienna Miller, Anne Hathaway, Chloë Sevigny and, most notably of all, Gwyneth Paltrow on her Iron Man publicity tour. The dress displayed Paltrow’s strength of will – her body was as sculpted as if she’d never had children, her muscles honed by long hours of exercise; but though her smile was triumphant, she also looked vulnerable, as she teetered on precariously high heels. Thus a bandage dress might also be read as bondage, a fashion to which you may not wish to be held in thrall.
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