The Strawberry Dress, a VIRAL cure for the pandemic?
Amidst a pandemic, worldwide lockdowns, in time of sweatpants and cancelled galas how did a sweet $490 strawberry dress become “the dress of the summer” (Spellings)?
The dress in question, a pink tulle, strawberry glitter concoction designed by Lirika Matoshi was first posted to the designers Instagram in July 2019.
The strawberry dress was then seen on Model, Tess Holliday, who wore it at the Grammy’s this January. However, it wasn’t until the bleakness of lockdowns across the world inspired a need a for fantasy and joy, that the dress took social media by storm.
Google trends reveal searches for ‘strawberry dress’ began rising in July before peaking twice during August (10th and 22nd).
Emma Allwood believes it was the TikTok video of @Mailleur_maker unboxing the strawberry dress on July 20 that started the upward this trend. The video has now gained 5.4 million views. The hashtag #strawberrydress has 33 million views on TikTok and 34,800 posts on Instagram, with tweets about the dress garnering up to 190,000 likes.
HOW did the dress become so popular?
Unlike previous years, ‘dress of the year’ the strawberry dress isn’t an accessible 40 euros from Zara, however, the dress still managed to leave its mark. The fantasy about this dress wasn’t just about buying it, although there were still plenty of unboxing’s including @Mailleur_maker’s which was crowdfunded, the dress became a creative inspiration for online communities.
The popularity of the dress and the diversity in how it appears online fits Henry Jenkin’s spreadable media model. Jenkins says:
“Consumers, both individually and collectively, exert agency in the spreadability model: they are not impregnated with media messages; they select material that matters to them from the much broader array of media content on offer. They do not simply pass along static content; they transform the content so that it better serves their own social and expressive needs. Content does not remain in fixed borders but rather it circulates in unpredicted and often unpredictable directions”
The strawberry dress was no doubt selected, and transformed to fit the expression of communities that include cottage core, LGBTQ+, anime and arts.
The strawberry dress has most often been associated with cottage core, a popular aesthetic on TikTok. Cottage core embraces romantic ideals of cottage life idealizing baking, crafting and a simplicity of life away from the modern crush (Lal). It focuses on self-care and its rejection of the male gaze helped it become a safe space for often marginalized LGBQT+ youth (Lal).
On an aesthetic level the puffy sleeves, tea length and strawberries appeal to cottage core but it became a symbol of more. The dress, its beyond everyday price and practicality and the lack of occasion to wear it during the pandemic, became a self-care act for those who were able to get their hands on it, allowing them to feel like a princess (Allwood, Spellings). For those who could not afford it the strawberry fantasy inspired fan art, and edits.
Fan art, that spread mostly on Instagram and Twitter, imagines the dress in gender non-conforming ways, on anime characters, celebrities and queer couplings (Matei). Adrienne Matei observed that “the strawberry dress has come to represent not only an idealized, fantasy aesthetic but an inclusive worldview in which fairy-tale romance is accessible to everyone, not just the cisgender, heteronormative couples who live happily ever after in retro animated films.”
Furthermore, the dress also managed to inspire the crafting, DIY aspirations of the cottage core aesthetic both on TikTok (@OfficialHambly, @mina.noir) and even beyond, on YouTube (withwendy, Madison McQuary).
Beyond cottage core the dress inspired many memes from countless video that compared fake cheaper versions of the dress with the original (@deaddaygal) to the twitter posts “girls don’t want boys they want strawberry dress” and “these dresses are lesbians.”
WHY did the strawberry dress become so popular?
The dress was able to spread and gain popularity because it was an object fans could rework and easily adopt into their own community. The dress was not an object of a campaign but a diverse experience that “spread the word” of the dress in unique ways through fan efforts (Jenkins). But what stood out about this dress in particular?
Jared Keller says it is the why, behind objects and ideas, that make them hold. Keller says:
“People don’t engage the unique structure of social networks as blank slates; they enter into each ecosystem with a particular set of values, values that shape the nature of a community and, in turn, the type of ideas and products that take hold.”
The strawberry dress was a symbol that aligned with the values of cottage core and it morphed into a whimsical remedy for many during the pandemic. The dress represented what people were valuing the most during this summer, nostalgia for a time where it was safe to be outside again (Slone). The dress then came to represent notions of the communities who adopted it, taking shape through their unique identities.
Understanding the motivation behind why the dress was so widely spread highlights why it happened nearly half a year after its first major appearance when Tess Holliday wore it on the Grammy’s red carpet.
What can the spread of the strawberry dress teach us about ‘viral’ media?
Research is often focused on how to make something go viral or as Jenkins prefers spreadable. However, as demonstrated with the dress as an example, the why, of an object gaining such traction can reflect volumes on the communities that share it and why it is relevant. The object, and the trail it leads through its adoptions and reinterpretations by different communities maps out a way to examine internet culture and platform vernaculars during a specific snapshot in history.
The prolific spread of the strawberry dress captures the aesthetic of cottage core as it appears on TikTok, it captures the important figures and idols within the queer and anime communities, through who is used in fan edits, as well as offering a dissection of popular editing styles and content trends used by fans who adopted the dress into their own online expressions.
Allwood, Emma Hope. “Investigating the Sudden Viral Fame of a Glittery Strawberry Dress.” Dazed, 18 Aug. 2020, www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/50159/1/lirika-matoshi-viral-tiktok-strawberry-pink-glitter-dress-famous-summer-2020.
Henry Jenkins. “If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead (Part Three): The Gift Economy and Commodity Culture.” Henry Jenkins, Henry Jenkins, 16 Feb. 2009, henryjenkins.org/blog/2009/02/if_it_doesnt_spread_its_dead_p_2.html.
Keller, Jared. “The Secret to Going Viral: It’s All About Culture.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 25 Jan. 2012, www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/01/the-secret-to-going-viral-its-all-about-culture/250641/.
Lal, Kish. “What Is Cottagecore and Why Is It Taking over TikTok?” Dazed, 1 Apr. 2020, www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/48609/1/cottagecore-tiktok-fashion-trend-gen-z-teen-subculture-country-life-social-media.
Matei, Adrienne. “Why Everyone’s Talking About the ‘Strawberry Dress’.” Glamour, 17 Aug. 2020, www.glamour.com/story/how-the-strawberry-dress-became-a-viral-sensation.
Slone, Isabel. “The Strawberry Dress That Ate TikTok.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Aug. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/08/18/style/strawberry-dress-tiktok-instagram-who-designed-where-to-get.html.
Spellings, Sarah. “How Did This Dress Get So Popular in a Pandemic?” Vogue, Vogue, 18 Aug. 2020, www.vogue.com/article/strawberry-dress-lirika-matoshi-popular.