Diane von Furstenberg’s (1946–) wrap dress was one of American fashion’s top sellers during the first half of the 1970s. The one-piece, knee-length garment, which wrapped in the front and featured built-in string ties of the same fabric, tied around the waist and sold in stores for around eighty dollars. Made from colorful abstract prints that von Furstenberg designed herself, the dress caught on with legions of American women, and some five million were sold at their height of popularity. The success of this dress made von Furstenberg one of the first designers to succeed by appealing primarily to the mass market, instead of to the world of haute couture, or high fashion.
Von Furstenberg was in her mid-twenties in 1972 when she launched her company with the slogan “Feel Like a Woman, Wear a Dress!” She and her husband, Prince Egon von Furstenberg (1946–), had settled in New York City with their two young children and led a glamorous life that was well chronicled in gossip columns of the day. After a brief fashion apprenticeship, she came up with the sketch for the wrap dress. Her connections landed her an appointment with the legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland (1901–1989) of Vogue magazine, and the dresses quickly caught on with the growing number of urban, middle-class professional women. At the time sales of dresses had been in decline for a few years. But the fresh, contemporary patterns on von Furstenberg’s dresses lured fashion-conscious buyers, and the shirtwaist style, with a blouse top that opened down the front, seemed to flatter all body shapes. The dresses were practical as well: drip-dry, they required a minimum of ironing and could easily go from the office to an evening out.
Von Furstenberg’s princess title and sexy looks helped make the dress a top seller by 1974, though even some of its most ardent fans complained they were becoming far too common. She built a profitable, if somewhat short-lived, fashion empire from them. In the late 1990s the original wrap dress became a prize find at vintage stores, and in 1997 von Furstenberg reintroduced a shorter version of the dress that sold for two hundred dollars.