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Spotted: why Zara’s dotty dress went viral

It’s summer’s dress sensation – but why has Zara’s polka-dot maxi-dress taken the high street by storm?

Have you seen this dress? If you live in a city, chances are you have. Once, twice, three times – maybe more. There were probably a few on your way into work this morning. Look around your office and you may spot someone wearing it. In our head office, there are at least two.

The floaty, polka-dot Zara maxi-dress, which retails for £39.99, has become the high street’s stand-out summer success story – spotted on women of all ages, shapes, sizes and fashion inclinations. It even has its own Instagram account, @hot4thespot, which documents the many women wearing the dress.

For a single product to have such an impact, and be so widely worn, is rare in the crowded womenswear market, where there are thousands of products for consumers to choose from. So why has this Zara dress become the Zara dress?

Zara dress

Zara is no stranger to cult hit productions. In 2016, a tile-print blue jacket was so popular it inspired a viral meme, while its fake fur aviator jacket became a winter wardrobe staple in 2017 and again in 2018. The polka-dot dress has the same magic combination of a smartly designed product, backed by the logistical capabilities that have fuelled Zara’s high street dominance. 

Other retailers, notably Marks & Spencer, have struggled to keep up with demand for product that goes viral. Recently, M&S failed to stock enough of its new range of denim, worn by TV presenter Holly Willoughby – whose consumer pulling power is well-documented. It is rumoured that this was one of the reasons behind the departure of M&S clothing and home boss, Jill McDonald, earlier this week. 

In contrast, Zara’s dress, which was initially a sell-out, it is now back in stock online in all sizes. The usual options of home delivery and click and collect, as well as in-store stock checking, are available.

The design of the dress plays to the behaviour of the modern shopper. A flattering, floaty, loose and oversized style, it is a relatively safe online buy because the fit is forgiving. This also minimises the likelihood of returns.

The maxi-length, oversized, vaguely prairie-inspired shape and subtly distorted spot print makes the dress recognisable enough to be a talking point, without being too daring. It nods to catwalk trends without shouting them too loudly – it is fashion-y without being too fashion-y. The print is feminine, but not as dramatic as some of the more daring, bright florals popular this spring and subtly hints towards an animal print motif. At £39.99 it is also very reasonably priced.

When Drapers spoke to brands and retailers for our special issue dedicated to the spring 20 womenswear collections, they noted that ease of wearing and versatility were increasingly important to customers – which has led to the general boom in the popularity of dresses. 

The Zara dress caters to this demand with a modest cut that makes it extremely versatile: suitable for offices, events and weekends alike, able to be dressed up or down. The dress is almost universally flattering, covering most stereotypical pain points for womenswear shoppers (arms, legs and stomach are all hidden by the wafty, dotty material). The floaty shape and long sleeves also make it ideal for a temperamental British summer.

The dress fits into the elusive Goldilocks aspiration of fashion: not too basic, not too bold – the design is just right.

There is a danger that shoppers will be put off by its ubiquity – not wanting to be seen wearing the same as the woman next to them on the commute. Nevertheless, the overnight cult success of Zara’s polka-dot dress is a valuable lesson for retailers and brands on the unfailing power of well-designed product, supported by investment in an impressive logistical backbone.

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