Why is everyone wearing shapeless dresses? Blame that Zara dress – and lockdown

Hadley Freeman

I’ve finally left my house for the first time in 10 weeks and … every woman seems to be wearing the same dress. Is this one of the conditions of easing lockdown?
Samantha, by email

Yes – did you miss that daily briefing? It was issued by Matt Hancock, before laughing in a dead-eyed hysterical manner that is weirdly reminiscent of when the people of Gotham became infected by the Joker’s poison in Tim Burton’s Batman. Come to think of it, Dominic Cummings does have something of the chaos-loving Joker about him. It would certainly explain his otherwise inexplicable outfits.

To the dress! Yes, some (many) of us last weekend emerged from the almost comical uncertainty of lockdown, to paraphrase a certain Spectator article by a certain Mary Wakefield – and one suspects Ms Wakefield had no idea how uncertain, or how comical, her family’s emergence from lockdown would turn out to be. Anyway, as I was saying, once the Cummingses officially declared that lockdown rules were just jokesies, a lot of people decided to follow their lead last weekend and, if not drive across the country with a carful of suspected Covid, then at least go to their local park. Hell, I did, and, goodness, isn’t nature wonderful? Being able to walk more than 20 steps in a straight line without bashing into a wall! Let us never again take such freedom for granted! And just as I was spinning about the park like Julie Andrews in the opening scene of The Sound of Music, there was a distinct record screech: why was everyone wearing the same dress?!

You know the dress: light material, probably polka dot, long-sleeved and ankle-length, cut vaguely on a diagonal so it’s not a total sack, but still quite sack-like, perhaps with some token buttons on the front for added primness, just in case dressing like a nun isn’t prim enough. This dress will look familiar because it resembles the bewilderingly ubiquitous Zara dress from last summer, and that is very much the answer to why these similar dresses are now everywhere. They are copies of that Zara dress, which probably started to roll out last September and continued to do so until March of this year – at which point everyone stopped shopping, because who would risk buying clothes online, knowing that you might have to queue up for three hours at the post office to return it? So the clothes we are now seeing on other people are clothes they bought – at the very least – three months ago, and more likely more. (I personally find that January-April are dead months in terms of clothes shopping, for reasons that are two parts post-Christmas bloat to three parts winter inertia.) So this shapeless sack dress is a response to last summer’s Zara dress, and was probably a response someone bought at least nine months ago.

Now, a quick word about that Zara sack dress. Much was written at the time about how that dress “flattered everyone”. It is high time that someone bravely stood up and put an end to this nonsense, and this brave truth-teller must be me. This emperor is not naked, but he is wearing something that makes him look like a walking bollard. Take it from one who wore only sack dresses between the ages of 14 and 30: they are not flattering, and I have the photos to prove it. Shapeless dresses only make you look shapeless, however big or small you are. Now, this is not to say everyone should dress like Nancy dell’Olio (always here for you with the cutting-edge references.) On the contrary, a body-skimming (as opposed to engulfing) maxi dress is probably my favourite look, and you can find many on, for example, asos.

Having said all that, maybe people just want to wear sacks, and I relate hard to that. I spent half of last year pregnant, the other half breastfeeding, and just as I was finally putting the maternity clothes away, lockdown hit. So I haven’t actually worn anything but sacks for the past, ooh, 18 months, and I’ll be honest: maternity clothes made up at least half of the four outfits I wore in rotation during lockdown, and my baby now has actual teeth. So fine, go forth and wear your Zara knock-off sack dresses, Britain. It’s been a hard few months for all of us, and they are super-comfy for those long drives to Durham. Or so I’ve heard.

Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email ask.hadley@theguardian.com