'For all ages and sizes': In defence of the Zara polka dot dress

Urgent high street request: more sleeves. Here Holly O'Neill writes in defence of ~that~ Zara dress.

I am a 26-year-old beauty editor and most of my week involves working from the office, meetings with beauty brands, filming last-minute videos and rushing for public transport, which means that I like to wear clothes that are comfortable and cool. 

I don’t want to wear the lurid neon frontless, backless, sideless clothing of Love Island nor the frilly bandeau tops that I can’t wear a jacket over or sit down in. I don’t want to wear Spanx to a morning meeting and I can’t get a bra under the print summer wrap dresses that everyone ripped off from Réalisation Par. And goddammit I just want sleeves. Why does every high street clothing store underestimate how much women want sleeves? To cover tan that has started to look like Tiger bread, or the (sad but true) least favourite part of most women’s bodies – their arms. 

So when I met The Dress, I knew it would cover all my basic needs; high enough on the neck that I don’t need to worry about an industrial-strength bra to hold in my boobs, glorious sleeves without frills that will fit under a jacket, finishing low enough on the shin that if my tan needs a scrub or I haven’t scheduled a shave I don’t need to worry about flashing too much leg.


The Dress is a whole outfit in itself that only requires the most basic level of styling; it's casual enough that I can wear a leather jacket and white runners and look styled, chic enough that a blazer will dress it up. A suits-all print - white with black polka dots - not shouty but not boring either – with a simple frill detail at the bottom that it can handle a fancy blow-dry or distract from a last-minute, pulled-back chignon, boosted with red lipstick.

Related: 15 pieces we love in the new Zara collection

This dress could take me from the airport to an important meeting to an evening event to a Christening to feck-I-slept-through-the-alarm-what-the-hell-can-I-throw-on and still make me feel stylish. Even better, it's comfortable and doesn't make me body-conscious – stylish and comfortable are two things often mutually exclusive. 

This is an eating dress too: loose around the middle with enough fabric to accommodate many Aperol Spritzes at drinks and many burgers at a barbeque. It doesn’t cost your monthly mortgage repayment and best of all, it doesn’t need dry cleaning - it doesn’t even need ironing.  

So when six other people in the office all wore it, styled in various ways, we all laughed about ‘the IMAGE dress’ and took note of each others' clever styling tricks – IMAGE office manager Hannah Hillyer wears hers with red lipstick and heeled black espadrilles, IMAGE events and branded content executive Ciara Hanrahan wears hers with backless loafers. I like to wear mine with Stan Smiths and when rain threatens I throw over a beloved black River Island blazer with pearl buttons that is so worn the lining is torn on the inside. 

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New York State of Dress. I love you @nikitab28

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The backlash

Team IMAGE ticked along happily in our perfectly cool and comfortable dresses until the rest of the world decided to rain on our parade. First, it started with Stylist – a thinkpiece that took The Dress out of our office and handed it over to the mercy of the Internet. Our beloved Zara dress took blow after blow until it started to appear less and less in IMAGE HQ. 

Ciara Cosgrove, IMAGE events and partnerships director, suggested we do a piece on IMAGE.ie about how we all respectively style our dresses and I shuddered at the thought of shouting into the Internet that I had joined the brigade of basics in the dress that has its own Instagram following of 11K.

The backlash followed me everywhere online: “I just don’t understand the obsession – the dress is shapeless and hideous on everyone” and other such hot takes. I knew it had really hit the mainstream when my boyfriend said it to me: “look how many times this person on Instagram has photographed that dress you have in one day!”

So as The Law of the thinkpiece goes, we’ve had The Backlash and here I am, ready to instigate phase two: The Backlash to The Backlash. 

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The dress is always 1 step ahead 👟 @losenior21

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In defence of The Dress

I’m bored of the snideness and the snobbery. I see the dress as regularly as you do, but this is what I see: women of all ages and sizes wearing the same dress. A dress that has flown off shelves based on how flattering it is to all. A dress that doesn’t dig in, a dress that everyone who owns can’t stop singing the praises of.

I’m bored with the “I prefer vintage” opinions and the “I like to spend more on something you won’t see every second person on the street wearing” people. Congratulations, we’re all very happy for you that you’re "not like other girls.”

Zara printed dress, €49.95

Rixo has a very similar option to The Dress and I must have missed the same level of snideness when everyone wore their blue daisy print Rixo Monet dress to every event last year. Or, as IMAGE contributing editor Melanie Morris put it when I spoke to her about The Dress in a meeting on Monday, “If this was a Saint Laurent bag nobody would be saying anything.”


Rixo Agyness Polka Dot Dress, €340

As far as I’m concerned, the only thing The Dress is missing is pockets. Leave me and my happy dress alone, we’ll be over here looking cool and eating another burger at the barbeque while you fret if an olive will be the straw that breaks the Spanx’s lining.

Stay tuned on IMAGE.ie tomorrow when team IMAGE will show you how we style The Dress.

Photography by @hot4thespot.

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