THE DRESS HEARD 'ROUND THE WORLD

Tess Holliday, the Strawberry Dress, and Fashion's Enduring Problem With Fat People

Plus-size people wore this Lirika Matoshi dress long before it cropped up on TikTok. Why aren't they considered tastemakers?
tess holliday strawberry dress
Getty Images; Illustration by Clara Hendler

Strawberry dress. If you've been on the internet at all for the past month or so, you've seen and heard those two words a whole lot. A nationwide obsession has been sparked by fashion designer Lirika Matoshi, whose $490 Strawberry Midi Dress has gone mega-viral across social media. That especially goes for TikTok, where you can find countless videos of people gleefully ripping apart their mail so they can try it on for the first time. It's certainly not the kind of dress you see every day — its short sleeves puff outward like a freshly risen pastry, and its bouncy, shin-length pink tulle is covered entirely in tiny sequined strawberries. It's a surefire attention-getter.

As cute as the dress is, its popularity has also highlighted just how much fatphobia still dominates the fashion world. Just take it from plus-size model Tess Holliday, who wore the dress on the red carpet all the way back in January and said it resulted in some serious backlash from the press. "I like how this dress had me on worst dressed lists when I wore it in January to the Grammys, but now bc a bunch of skinny ppl wore it on TikTok everyone cares," she shared to Instagram on August 17. "To sum it up: our society hates fat people, especially when we are winning."

Although this dress has been plastered all over TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter within the past couple of months on bodies of all shapes and sizes, plus-size people have been keyed into this dress for a while. Plus-size model Bree Kish, for example, has been wearing the strawberry dress on Instagram all year, prompting many of her followers to ask where she bought it so they could follow in her footsteps. Take a deep scroll through Lirika Matoshi's tagged posts on the app and you'll also find that curvy influencers including Susan Presley, Honey Ross, and Dani Sauter also wore the dress (or similar Lirika Matoshi designs) far before the trend took off.

Lirika Matoshi only makes the strawberry dress up to a size 16 — Holliday's iteration was custom-tailored to her — which isn't very inclusive by the plus community's standards but is still better than the average designer's range. As a plus-size person myself, I can personally attest that it's rare to find high-fashion pieces like this that are actually available in my size (and I'm a size 14, which is still smaller than the national average size for women). So when you do find them, you tend to latch on for dear life — or you avoid them altogether because of the little voice in your head that says they won't look as good on you as they would on your skinny friends. That's because, as figures in the fat-positive and plus-size communities will point out to you, what Holliday says is true: style in our society has been deemed exclusive to a very specific demographic.

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"I definitely empathize with what Tess has said about her dress experience; fashion is often centered around how affluent, white, cis-gender bodies look in clothing," says Dallas-based influencer Rosey Blair. "Oversized T-shirts paired with bike shorts are edgy and carefree when depicted on a thin person — but on a fat person would be considered lazy, sloppy, and unintentional."

(She's right on the money, by the way — just look at this viral Twitter post pointing out a picture of two fat people who were chastised for wearing faded graphic tees and mom jeans, an outfit that would otherwise be considered cool these days.)

Canadian influencer and writer Lydia Okello agrees: "I understand Tess's frustrations and observations; it's interesting to see the mainstream laud something that had already been circulating in the plus community," they say. "I think it all comes back to what is still widely held as aspirational in fashion and beyond."

This is less about what's considered stylish and more about which people are considered acceptable by our society. "There is still a sense that something has to be popularized by the 'right' — usually thin and white — type of person to desirable," Okello says. They add that whiteness and thinness almost always go hand-in-hand in this context — especially when it comes to celebrities such as the Kardashian or Hadid families.

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"Personally, I have seen this play out in regard to trends worn by Black women," they explain. "What is perceived to be tasteless or unclassy on Black women of varying socio-economic backgrounds is suddenly stylish and of the moment when placed on acceptable thin white folks."

Of course, when it comes to the strawberry dress, plus-size people weren't the only people that discovered it pre-trend. "The only part I disagree with [in Holliday's statement] is that this dress, and its designer, had been filtering up through the Instagram set before Tess wore it, so I'm not sure that it has only become popular because thin people are wearing it now,” says Tyler McCall, the editor-in-chief of Fashionista.

Still, the criticism that resulted when Holliday wore the dress highlights the same fatphobia that lies at the core of this situation. “What I do think happened is that people put her on worst-dressed lists because she dared to break with the convention of how fat women are ‘supposed’ to dress,” McCall explains.

In order to help defeat this fatphobic mentality, two things (among a bunch of other stuff) need to happen. The first is that popular fashion designers and retailers need to offer more options for people size 16 and above (and I mean really offer them options rather than slapping a size 20 label on a size 14 pair of jeans. I'm looking at you, Madewell). The second is that straight-size people — particularly ones who work in fashion and media — need to check their privilege because thin privilege is, indeed, a thing.

"I feel that if fashion writers critique fat celebrities' outfits, they need to have a broader awareness regarding fat people's access to fashion," Blair says. Accessibility is an issue, by the way: Because many designers won't make custom creations for women above a certain size, plus-size celebrities including Holliday, Chrissy Metz, and Saturday Night Live star Aidy Bryant have all worn clothing from consumer plus-size retailers like Eloquii on the carpet.

Small details such as the way we choose to speak and write about fat bodies can make a huge difference in this regard. “How often do we see headlines praising thin — and, realistically, usually cis and white — women for outfits that are truly as simple as a pair of leggings and a crop top when we wouldn't allow fat women the same style choices?” McCall asks. "Everything has to be the F word: ‘Flattering.’ Plus-size women are discouraged from experimenting with things that might — gasp! — display or event flaunt the things they're meant to hide and be ashamed of."

All of this is to say that the strawberry dress conundrum cannot be boiled down to a matter of good or bad fashion design. Whether the dress is something you'd personally wear or not, you can't deny the role of plus-size people in making it popular — and looking really good while doing it, fatphobic comments be damned.


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