Liz tries to improve the dress with a skinny belt to stop it swamping her. It’s so all-enveloping that – if you are one of the thousands who have bought it – passers-by will assume, depending on your age, that you are either pregnant or Ann Widdecombe
I’m on Kensington Church Street in West
It’s covered in spots and now I too am coming out in a rash, given the man-made fabric is microwaving my internal organs.
It is an insubstantial sack, with three-quarter-length sleeves, a high, round neck, and a billowing skirt – or is it a sail? – reaching almost to the ankle.
It has a pie-crust hem, which reminds me of 1970s Laura Ashley, and not in a good way.
The finishing touch is a seam somewhere about half-mast, or just below the bust, to indicate where your waist might be, if only you could find it.
Habituated as I am to tailoring, I feel strangely exposed within its voluminous shape.
It’s so all-enveloping that – if you are one of the thousands who have bought it – passers-by will assume, depending on your age, that you are either pregnant or Ann Widdecombe.
Zara refuses to give sales figures worldwide, but if anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, these spots have infected tens of thousands, like a particularly virulent strain of measles.
The dress has ‘gone viral’ – it has been bought by so many women that it now has its own Instagram account, @hot4thespot, which describes itself as ‘a safe space for *the dress*’ and is only serving to spread its contagion wider.
Anyone who comes into contact with it seems to buy it. And anyone wearing it risks being papped and having their image uploaded for the delight of the account’s 2,500-plus followers.
I must admit some of them look rather glamorous. And there are many ways to wear it.
But catching sight of myself in a shop window, I realise I resemble Mrs Rochester on a bad day: certifiable. I have the silhouette of SpongeBob SquarePants.
Snap! Emily Ingle, left, and restaurant manager Stefanie Powell, right, are pictured wearing the dress. Ms Ingle, a 27-year-old account manager, agrees it’s the comfiest dress she’s owned
When a breeze gets up, the dress inflates, like a barrage balloon. If things kick off with Iran, the army could just float me off Ramsgate to ward off all comers.
If they brought us dress-owners together we could defend Britain’s entire coastline.
In the course of five minutes, two women in my dress do indeed float towards me: delightfully dotty doppelgängers. They look far prettier in it than I do.
There is no shame, no crossing of the road, no heads down. Instead, there are broad grins of recognition that we are part of a club.
We are of the school where comfort is king, which is all very well unless the weather gets even hotter and the darn thing melts.
Dotty for dots: Medical student Jenna Williams, left, and actress Eliza Roadnight, right, are pictured wearing the dress. Ms Williams, from Leeds, says: ‘It’s long and floaty and if you’re bloated it hides it’
The sort of women who have chosen this dress are not looking for a fiance – it’s the ultimate man repeller, after all, revealing only wrists and ankles. Worn with flip flops or trainers, it’s a frump fest. But I suppose it could look rather fabulous. Am I being too harsh?
When a breeze gets up, the dress inflates, like a barrage balloon. If things kick off with Iran, the army could just float me off Ramsgate to ward off all comers. If they brought us dress-owners together we could defend Britain’s entire coastline
Lots of women like it, after all. Take Jenna Williams, a 23-year-old medical student from Leeds. ‘It’s long and floaty and if you’re bloated it hides it,’ she says. ‘People might say it’s man-repelling, but my boyfriend really likes it.’
Emily Ingle, a 27-year-old account manager, agrees it’s the comfiest dress she’s owned: ‘It’s easy breezy. You chuck it on and off you go.’
Stefanie Powell, a 31-year-old restaurant manager, adds: ‘I bought it for a holiday and now wear it for work because it’s bouncy. I don’t wear things for other people, but to feel comfortable.’
The dress is an ice breaker, too. It’s a leveller, a uniform that means you’re the sort of gal who can change plugs and get ready as quickly as a man. ‘Earlier I served someone who was also wearing it,’ Stefanie confirms.
What makes a garment go viral? This dress has been around since April, but as sales soared in a pyramid fashion (like the dress itself), Zara, which prides itself on being both fast and new, changed tack and continued to make it. While stock in many branches is low, it’s still available online.
Many of the women I spoke to inevitably saw it first on social media. Eliza Roadnight, a 22-year-old actress, says: ‘I decided to get it because I saw someone on Instagram wearing it.’
For a garment to have legs it needs to be the right price, and be able to be worn by all ages and sizes.
This dress starts at XS, and goes up to XXL, meaning it’s the first high street dress visible from space.
A viral garment must be no-nonsense, too: this is machine washable, and drip-dries in minutes.
What to do if you’ve bought it but fear friends stepping out in it to the same event? I say wear it with pride – but with a few personal and edgy styling tweaks.
A skinny belt at the waist, the fabric bunched over it in a blouson, making it that few all-important inches shorter.
I can’t stand the constricting high round neckline, so I’d wear mine backwards and leave the fastening open.
Or better still, keep yours in the wardrobe for a few years, then wheel it out as a classic.
And another plus? It repels moths as well as men…
Additional reporting by Saskia Hume
What should you do when your dress goes viral? Fashion editors give their verdicts
Farrah Storr, Editor-in-Chief,
It’s the ultimate democratic item of clothing – black and white, accommodating all shapes and ages, and occasion-neutral (I’ve seen it at both christenings and in the office).
Months ago, I stopped to ask a young woman where her pretty polka-dot dress was from. When she said ‘Zara’ I pulled the handbrake on buying it, fearing it would be everywhere within the month.
Because I can’t see a dress like this living beyond the summer. And longevity is what I want from my clothes.
By the time an outfit has its own hashtag and you’ve seen at least three other women wearing it (all of whom you know), it’s a sign it’s reached its own inflection point.
In the end, ubiquity breeds contempt and the success of this dress is what will kill it.
After all, if true style is about self-expression then what does wearing the same thing as everyone in your office say about you?
Jo Elvin, Editor,
I couldn’t buy that spotty dress because it was perfect and I loved it. Such an on-trend print. The length is the universally flattering midi that works with every shoe from stilettos to trainers. And, of course, there’s that bargain price.
It’s, let’s say, ‘inspired by’ the printed shifts from popular, more upmarket brands such as Rixo and Ganni. These are all the reasons I just knew I had to put it down and leave the shop.
Zara has done a good job with this one. Too good. If I do cave, it’ll be staying in my closet until next summer, by which time everyone else will be bored to death with wearing theirs.
It’s got its own Instagram account
Editor of Red magazine
This dress is the reason I don’t really shop at Zara any more. The high you get from spotting a gem in a sea of so-so dresses (even more if you’ve committed to ploughing through the reams online) is over the instant you step outside and see someone else wearing the exact same one.
And that’s the problem with Zara – it has a way of designing one dress a season that perfectly captures the mood of the moment, at a buy-me-now price point that’s frankly irresistible.
You see it on your Instagram once and your interest is piqued… you see it twice and you know you have to buy it then and there, before it sells out… You see it for a third, fourth and fifth time and your heart sinks as you realise you won’t be getting the ‘ooh, where did you get that?’ comments, but instead, ‘ha! you’ve got the Zara dress too!’
The solution? Steer clear of the high street and spend a bit more money on something from a smaller brand such as Kitri, Lily & Lionel or Sezane that’s much more special – and which you won’t have fallen out of love with by next summer. Or worse, next week.
Shelly Vella, Fashion Director,
I love it when a piece of clothing goes viral, especially when it’s an affordable on-trend piece that suits most women.
Would I buy this dress? No. Why? Possibly because I prefer to wear things that aren’t so recognisable.
However this is a great dress. The type of shape you can slip into when you would rather eschew something more figure-hugging and revealing.
It makes a statement about the wearer – she’s quirky, cool, modern and, above all, she knows exactly what she likes and she’ll stalk the internet until it comes back into stock. Bravo Zara.
Gary Armstrong, Senior
Fashion Editor, British GQ Style
When I see two people wearing the same piece of clothing I feel terribly embarrassed on their behalf. So I don’t think I could bear to follow any viral fashion trend in case it happened to me.
Having said that, viral fashions do capture the moods and trends of the season, something this dress does perfectly.
Any man who is repelled by it is one that you’d want to keep far away from anyway – let’s call it DEET for awful men. Perhaps yet another reason to buy it.