The knee-jerk reaction to the term “hooded dress” isn’t exactly one of abject desire. It can conjure up mental images of jersey hooded dresses, heather grays, cropped hems, drawstrings – Boohoo A/W 2014 personified. The concept has the same aura as the heeled Converse, which is saying a lot.
But the hooded dress is a dark horse. It comes in many forms, and believe it or not, chic is one of them. The hoodie dress has become a red carpet staple lately, providing some of the sexiest looks at awards shows and A-list events this season. Like last week, for example, when Margot Robbie arrived at the premiere of her new film, Babylon, bare legs, abs and arms in a custom-cut Alaïa dress — but with her head covered.
Without a cowl, the revealing dress would still have been a bold choice, albeit ultimately a pretty standard LBD. It was the hooded element that cemented Robbie’s status as a bold new red carpet icon, thanks to her suspicion of separation of Chanel, a longtime fashion partner.
Simone Ashley also offered a more modest but equally sultry alternative on the red carpet at the British Fashion Awards earlier this month, where hooded dresses were in abundance. The Sex Education and Bridgerton actress arrived in a shimmering custom look from 16Arlington, covered from head to toe in tiny gemstones that were embellished over a figure-hugging lavender dress.
And Katie Holmes, the new divisive fashion girl, was seen covering it up as early as September, turning into a chic NYFW funeral in a black hooded Tom Ford number. But, of course, the first case this year was chief trailblazer Ms Robyn ‘Rihanna’ Fenty, who stepped out in a red Alaïa cape coat in February during her fashionable maternity ward.
You don’t have to be a fashion historian (or… a condom expert) to know that hooded dresses have also been a sexy staple in recent years. Grace Jones has been one of the main purveyors of the canopy-infused attire, donning various caped creations like Bond girl May Day in 1985’s A View To Kill, then making history with this iconic hooded dress. ‘Alaïa on the catwalk in 1986, cementing house fashion as a benchmark for the bonnet look.
In more recent memory, there’s Kylie Minogue’s covered but totally uncovered Can’t Get You Out of My Head outfit, in all its draped white glory.
Still, the hooded dress didn’t always look so good. In 2015, Anne Hathaway walked up the steps to the 2015 Met Gala in a silky, gold Ralph Lauren look (shawl included) and it proved oddly controversial. The garment, which was dubbed a “hoodie dress” by many, was not universally loved, as Vanity Fair even wrote an article explaining “Why Anne Hathaway wore a hoodie at the Met Gala” , as if she had arrived in a pair of grease-stained tracksuits.
So how was something wrong then, and now? Well, it’s part of our thirst for novelty on increasingly edgy red carpets, says stylist Mary Fellowes: “The red carpet can often turn theater. […] and these hoods are theatrical if nothing else.
Fellowes wonders if this is the time of year that has suddenly brought so many hooded dresses onto the red carpet. “These celebrity looks are reminiscent of a Grimms fairy tale character in a seasonal musical,” she says. Or maybe a response to the nearly naked stares that have dominated red carpets lately. “Is this a reaction against the Kardashian-esque tendency to provocatively expose a lot of skin, probably with the intention of going ‘viral’?” she asks. “If that high-modesty is the backlash, bring it on. Less is more.”
But with Margot Robbie’s Alaïa hooded look bridging the gap between the hooded dress and the nearly bare dress, she didn’t exactly rebel against bare skin on the red carpet. What she did was merge the two most popular looks this season. Congratulations Robbie, and get ready for a lot more bare bellies and covered heads, because the bare dress isn’t finished – it just won a cowl.