When I said the phrase ‘that dress’, what garment comes to mind? Wikipedia has helpfully compiled a list of famous dresses, including those worn by celebrities and ones of historical importance, that would readily come up in such conversations. Perhaps that dress to you is Audrey Hepburn’s black Givenchy gown, so sleeky and stylish, that she wore for Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Maybe it’s Geri Halliwell’s ultimate symbol of ’90s girl power in the form of a Union Jack mini-dress, the gown that defined the biggest girl band of the era. Is it one of the many lavish white gowns worn by royal brides that elicits such a gasp from you, from Grace Kelly to Meghan Markle? For me, I always remember Bjork’s iconic swan dress from the Oscars and the sheer mania it inspired. However, over the weekend, it was abundantly clear what that dress was to everyone online.
Jennifer Lopez stepped out onto the runway of the Spring/Summer 2020 Versace show in Milan wearing an updated version of a very famous dress. You knew what it was the moment you saw it: The jungle green coloring; the bamboo shoot pattern; the daring flesh-baring slice down the middle. It was racier than the original one but those memories were still evoked. The audience went wild and so did Twitter, on a Lopez high following her triumphant reviews in Hustlers. I wrote before about how she’s having something of a renaissance, despite having never truly gone away, and the response she received this weekend only further emphasized that.
Lopez wore the green Versace dress to the 2000 Grammy Awards and helped to create a phenomenon. Former Google CEO revealed that the site received so many searches for photos of Lopez in the gown that it inspired them to create Google Images. This historic moment was referenced in the Versace show, as Vogue reported the final models walked out to the Lopez song ‘Love Don’t Cost a Thing’ before a montage of Google Image searches for the Grammys dress was projected onto the walls. As if talking to a smart speaker, a voice announced: ‘OK, Google. Now show me the real dress.’ Enter Lopez.
When I wrote my original piece on Lopez, I realized that I hadn’t thought about that dress for so long, although I could still picture it clearly in my mind. Well, I thought I could. Then I looked it up — on Google Images, of course — and was surprised by how oddly demure it seemed. Surely this wasn’t the dress that caused all that outrage close to two decades ago? By today’s standards, it felt extremely tame. Hell, Rose McGowan’s butt-flashing mesh number from the MTV VMAs was three years prior and still feels like a shock. Yet therein was the power of that dress, or at least that dress in Lopez’s hands.
As has been well documented by now, Lopez was not the first major celebrity to wear that Versace dress in public. Donatella herself donned it first to the 1999 Met Gala. Geri Halliwell wore it to a public event. Amber Valletta, one of the true supermodels of the era, gave it the catwalk premiere. But it was Lopez who wore it. Lopez has always claimed she was surprised by the enormity of the media coverage surrounding the dress, but I’m skeptical of that. I think she knew exactly what she was doing.
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Maj moment at Milan Fashion Week… @jLo closes @versace in THE green dress that launched @google images, but let’s not pretend it’s the first time the look has been reinterpreted since 2000 lol. Dieters, which iteration is your fave? • #jlo #versace #michaelkors #capriholdings #jenniferlopez #donatellaversace #google #googleimages #dress #gown #sheer #green #tropical #plungingneckline #latina #iluhyapapi #frenchmontana #mfw #milanfashionweek #chiffon #silk #jumpsuit #wiwt #italian #madeinitaly #ootd #dietprada
In her book Dangerous Curves: Latina Bodies in the Media, Isabel Molina-Guzman quotes a comment from Entertainment Weekly’s website on how the dress showed Lopez turning ‘herself out as the fly girl hyperversion of postfeminist power, flaunting her control by toying with the threat of excess.’ That point of the ‘threat of excess’, Molina-Guzman argues, was to let Lopez break away from ‘normative notions of white femininity and social acceptability.’ You can sense the racialized sneers in much of the contemporary press coverage of the dress and how Lopez has always been sexualized. One of her biographers said the dress made her ‘a Chiquita legend’. As delighted as such publications were to indulge in the titillation and provocation Lopez played around with, there was still this element of dismissal towards her that played into many of those ideas that she, a prominent Latina woman building up a reputation as a ‘diva’, should ‘know her place’ better.
The right outfit can elevate a celebrity in ways the complex machinations of PR often can’t. Think of the ways Lupita Nyong’o cemented her star status during her awards season run for 12 Years a Slave through an increasingly stunning array of red carpet dresses or the safety pin Versace dress that made Elizabeth Hurley a household name. Often, the biggest moments in history are defined by fashion, from Jackie Kennedy’s blood-stained pink suit to Princess Diana’s ‘f*ck you, Windsors’ mini black dress. Jennifer Lopez was already a star when she wore the Versace dress but it certainly defined in and ensured her status in a way she hadn’t previously achieved. She made people want more. It spoke to a moment in pop culture history that seemed primed for Lopez to dominate, and in many ways she did. She has endured for a reason and so has that dress, to the point where it can be revived and made more daring and, rather than eliciting gasps of shock, audiences cheer her on for even more.
I must admit that I actually don’t like the modern reinvention of the dress anywhere near as much as the original. Where the first dress relied on suggestion and a sort of casual sensuality, the rebranding lacks the same kind of allure, even as it reveals more. The flesh-colored stretch across Lopez’s stomach is also too distracting. Then again, if the original dress was one for its time, this one is very much a creature of 2019, and the fact that Lopez can perfectly embody both is a sign of why she’s stuck around for as long as she has. There may be imitators but there’s only one Jennifer Lopez and only she can make that dress work.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.