The knee-jerk reaction to the term “hooded dress” isn’t exactly one of abject desire. It can conjure up mental images of hooded dresses in jersey fabric, gray marl, cropped hems, drawstrings: Boohoo F/W 2014 incarnate. The concept has the same aura as the heeled Converse, which says a lot.
But the hooded dress is a dark horse. It comes in many forms and believe it or not, elegance is one of them. The hooded dress has become a red carpet staple as of late, delivering some of the sexiest looks from this season’s award shows and A-list events. Like last week, for example, when Margot Robbie arrived at the premiere of her new film, Babylon, with her legs, abs and arms exposed in a tailored Alaïa dress, but with her head covered.
Without the hood, the revealing gown would still have been a bold choice, if 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 alleged separation from longtime fashion partner Chanel.
Simone Ashley also offered a more modest but equally sultry alternative to the British Fashion Awards red carpet earlier this month, where hooded dresses were in abundance. The Sex Education and Bridgerton actress arrived in a glittering custom 16Arlington look, covered head to toe in tiny gemstones that were embellished in a lavender, form-fitting gown.
And fashion’s divisive new girl Katie Holmes was seen hiding it as early as September, going completely funeral chic at NYFW in a black-hooded Tom Ford number. But, of course, this year’s prime example was the trendsetter in chief, Ms. Robyn ‘Rihanna’ Fenty, who stepped out in a red Alaïa hooded coat in February, during her fashionable maternity era.
It doesn’t take a fashion historian (or… hood expert) to know that hooded dresses have also been a sexy staple in previous years. Grace Jones was a major purveyor of the awning-infused outfit, donning various hooded creations such as Bond girl May Day in A View To Kill in 1985 and then making history in that iconic Alaïa hooded dress on the runway in 1986, cementing home fashion as the go-to for the hooded look.
In most recent memory is Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head dress covered up but totally bare in all its white draped glory.
Yet the hooded dress hasn’t always turned out so well. In 2015, Anne Hathaway walked up the steps at the 2015 Met Gala in a silky, gold Ralph Lauren look (shawl included) and proved strangely controversial. The garment, dubbed a “hooded dress” by many, was not universally appreciated, so much so that Vanity Fair even wrote a piece explaining “Why Anne Hathaway Wore a Hoodie to the Met Gala,” as if was presented in a pair of grease-stained sweatshirts.
So how come something so wrong then, and so now? Well, it’s part of our thirst for increasingly cutting-edge red carpet news, says stylist Mary Fellowes: “The red carpet can often veer […] and these hoods are theatrical if nothing else.
Fellowes wonders if it’s the time of year that has suddenly brought so many hooded dresses to the red carpet. “These celebrity looks evoke a fairytale Grimm character in a seasonal musical,” he says. Or perhaps a response to the almost nude looks that have been dominating the red carpets lately. “Is this a reaction against Kardashian’s tendency to provocatively expose a lot of skin, likely with the intent of going ‘viral’?” she asks. “If this lofty modesty is the kickback, go for it. Less is more.”
But with Margot Robbie’s Alaïa hooded look bridging the gap between hooded gown and near-naked dress, she didn’t exactly rebel against bare skin on the red carpet. What she has done is blend the two most popular looks of this season. Congrats Robbie, and get ready for a lot more bare bellies and covered heads, because her nude dress isn’t finished—she just earned a hood.