The Dress: how Zara’s polka-dot frock became a charity-shop sensation

Sirin Kale

It was the dress of the summer, seen on women commuting to work, in rooftop bars and on the school run. You know the one: that Zara polka-dot dress with a nightie-inspired silhouette that, for a few months, captivated women across the UK. Women of all ages, shapes and sizes bought the dress and wore it proudly, until the days shortened and the nights drew in.

But what became of the dress after the summer mania? Zara capitalised on its success by releasing a black edition, more suitable for wearing in winter with tights and boots. Internet searches for the original version continued well into autumn: an eBay spokesperson tells me that, on 29 September, 45 Zara polka-dot dresses an hour were sold on the platform (not all of these will have been the dress, as it cannot disaggregate other Zara polka-dot dresses from the search results). Public interest in the dress has certainly waned: from July to November 2019, the secondhand resale app Depop reported a steady decrease in searches for it.

Where do these once-loved frocks go? In most cases, to your local charity shop.

“When I saw it in the shop, I thought, that’s amazing!” says Celia Abbott of the Royal Trinity Hospice, which operates in south London. “We’ve finally had one donated to us.” In September, for its shop window in Camberwell, it styled it with a black rollneck and a brown leather belt. Within hours, it sold for £8, a snip compared with its original retail price of £39.99.

The Crystal Palace branch of the RSPCA received two donations of the dress. “They were in the shop for literally a few hours, and then they were gone,” says the shop’s deputy manager, Renae Snelling. One of the buyers returned to the store recently. “She said: ‘My dress was in the papers!’” says Snelling. “She was delighted.”

Six of the dresses were donated to the Traid charity shop in Brixton in September. “The weather was still warmish, and when we put the first one out it sold in minutes for £20,” says Laura Casas, a shop assistant. The following week, Casas put out another two dresses, which also sold immediately.

“Long story short, all of them sold within an hour of putting them out,” Casas says. “I am not sure what it is with this dress – I think the shape suits a lot of people with different body types.” She should know: she bought one herself, to wear next summer. “I’ll probably change the sleeves or something … it’s curious how famous this dress is.”

Kris Koper, who manages a branch of Oxfam in east London, used to work at Zara, so he had heard all about the dress. When he was going through the stockroom, there it was. “I was like: ‘Guys! We have it,’” Koper says.

He has been holding back the dress, a size small, from the shop floor for maximum impact. “We’ll be promoting it on social media before we sell it,” he says. “We use these key pieces to encourage customers to come into our shop, and people to donate.”

Koper plans to sell it for £12.99, but potential buyers will have to move fast. “I know customers are going to fight for this dress,” Koper says. “It will go in two hours.”