When Towels Become Fashion Icons

Before the controversy over Balenciaga’s $925 towel dress, the familiar household item had entered the world of high fashion, embodying dreamy interpretations by many designers.

After a period of silence following their advertising scandal, Balenciaga has returned with its unique and unparalleled antics. In a fashion landscape dominated and deeply influenced by technology, Balenciaga’s provocations under the reign of Demna Gvasalia are perhaps the bait the online community needs. Surely, the fashion world has not forgotten the seismic shock of the high-heeled Crocs, garbage bag-inspired purses, and snack-shaped handbags. The appearance of the $925 towel dress continues to captivate the fashion world with a mix of fascination, confusion, and curiosity.

When Towels Become Fashion Icons
When Towels Become Fashion Icons

This is a terry cloth towel in a gray hue worn as a unisex knee-length dress with a high waist—resembling the image of hastily wrapped towels stepping out of our bathrooms. The distinctive towel skirt comes in three colors: beige, black, and slate gray. What sets Balenciaga’s $925 towel apart from ordinary ones is its brand logo embroidered on the front and its secure fastening with two pens at the waist and an additional strap. Strangely, this extravagant towel dress is dry clean only! This unique design is part of the Spring/Summer 2024 collection, though it seemingly did not appear on the Paris Fashion Week runway but was showcased on the fashion house’s online platforms. This move aligns with Demna’s new direction and intentions following the recent scandal. “Making clothes, creating fashion is a serious job, instead of producing ostentatious, even ridiculous pieces,” shared Balenciaga’s creative director.

While Balenciaga’s towel skirt has sparked enthusiastic discussions among online communities and fashion enthusiasts, it is not the first high-priced towel to appear in the world of high fashion. Anything can become a reality through the creative lens of fashion. The emergence of designs made from terry cloth or inspired by the silhouette of towels in the fashion world is a reliable testament. In the new era of fashion, wearing a towel in public is perhaps an intriguing experience for today’s open-minded fashion enthusiasts. This is why the younger generation is going “crazy” for Balenciaga’s whimsical towel dress, even though it’s not the fashion industry’s first crazy idea about towels. Historically, terry cloth was primarily used for luxurious designs before becoming associated with bikinis, beach towels, bathrobes, and even loungewear.

Originating from the French word “tirer,” meaning “to pull,” terry cloth is made by weaving two vertical yarns into a single horizontal one, processed at different tensions, and combined with cotton to create a material with excellent absorbency. From the 1960s onward, terry cloth became popular in the interior world, especially in household items like soft towels, swimwear, and casual robes. The material made its big-screen debut in the 1965 film “Agent 007 – Mission Goldfinger,” featuring Sean Connery in an iconic blue swimsuit. Since then, it has become an icon in Mediterranean aesthetics and coexists with carefree leisure in the summer days. Terry cloth is also commonly used for sports apparel like Sylvester Stallone’s tracksuit in the movie “Rocky.” In the 1970s and 1980s, terry cloth began to be synonymous with “poolside living” and underwent self-renewal from the 1990s onwards.

The iconic Chanel Spring/Summer 1996 fashion show was one of the occasions when terry cloth fascinated the fashion world with luxurious swimsuits, stylish mini skirts, high-end headscarves, and a range of pastel colors with the iconic interlocking logo printed on the fabric. From the catwalk with Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford to the streets of LA, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, high-end sports fashion finally recognized the seductive potential of this fabric. These were the years when J.Lo attracted every lens with her variously colored Y2K tracksuits almost every day, and by 2001, she commemorated and honored all her favorite Y2K tracksuits in the music video “I am Real.” Meanwhile, Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian became “immortal” fashion icons of the 2000s with their Juicy Couture ensembles, Louis Vuitton metallic bags, and Motorola Razr phones.

More recently, Bottega Veneta introduced its famous clutch made of this soft fabric. Miu Miu also had pastel-colored tote bags made of terry cloth, and even the “brand of the year 2023” used this fabric as the main material for its entire 2017 collection, adorned with patterns from the 1970s and vibrant colors. Acne Studios also did this in 2015. In 2018, Donatella Versace even revived terry cloth designs with fuzzy butterfly prints from the Gianni Versace collection in 1995. Brands like Loewe, Prada, Moschino, and Jacquemus have also introduced terry cloth dresses as a strong statement for the summer. J.W. Anderson brought a navy blue terry cloth robe to the runway in spring 2015. Meanwhile, Daniel Lee playfully experimented with terry cloth from bath towels in a long green Bottega coat at a show in Michigan, Detroit in 2021. Whether sensual, comfortable, elegant, or awkward, terry cloth is a must-have in the fashion world, especially in summer fashion. Terry cloth, with its carefree spirit, was fully explored in Ludovic de Saint Sernin’s SS20 runway show.

The indescribably attractive beauty, coupled with the artistic detachment from terry cloth or a bath towel, has enchanted many famous photographers and magazines. In many issues of Vogue magazine, there is a 1954 photo by John Rawlings featuring a model posing in a one-piece swimsuit with a white terry cloth towel wrapped around her head. In 1967, Franco Rubartelli captured the moment Veruschka wore nothing but an orange towel and a bead necklace. Marc Jacobs’ terry cloth wrap dress with sequin embellishments also appeared in Vogue’s February 1989 issue.

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