As Summer Turns Into Fall, Let Us Not Forget The Queer AF Strawberry Dress

Much like my own sexuality, the strawberry dress both took me by surprise and seemed…inevitable.

Much like my own sexuality, the strawberry dress both took me by surprise and seemed inevitable.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the strawberry dress is this sheer confection of a frock designed by Lirika Matoshi. First spotted at the Grammy Awards in January on plus-size model and queer lady icon Tess Holliday — who perfectly describes the vision in pink as “if Strawberry Shortcake and Lana Del Rey had a baby” — the dress popped up everywhere this summer after going viral on TikTok as, among other things, a symbol of “cottagecore” (think Marie Antoinette’s pastoral fantasy, only way less problematic).

Even those who can’t afford the $500 original (which, let’s face it, is most of us) can enjoy the strawberry dress thanks to countless depictions on social media, not to mention less expensive variations on a theme. But like most trends, it’s worth asking: Why the strawberry dress, and why now? And more significantly, why is this beautiful dress so inherently gay?

 

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The strawberry dress is a high-femme fantasy made real…

Queer and trans folks of the femme persuasion are used to living inside our heads. Once I came out as bi, I — someone who don’t even own a pair of jeans anymore — leaned especially hard into the femme game, as if I’d given myself a permission slip to embrace who I really was. These days, I’m all about the flowered dresses and twirly skirts, and while I’ve somewhat given into denim, I wear my bib overall shorts with pink tank tops to keep it extra cute. If I look pretty, I feel pretty!

 

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I can’t speak for the entire femme community, but when I first spotted the strawberry dress on social media, I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. As femmes, we’re used to fantasies being just that. Because many consider us “too girly” — with all the gross, patriarchal stereotypes that come with that descriptor — either we style ourselves with a mishmash of vintage, homemade, and Gap clearance rack made fab, or we’re afraid to truly express ourselves in more ways than one. If someone can take the cotton candy dreams out of our heads, realize it on a sewing machine, and watch it catch on with the masses — well, maybe this will pave the way for society to realize just how special high femme truly is.

…but at the same time, the dress lives in a very safe and accessible fantasyland.

As stated above, this particular fantasy doesn’t come cheap. This is not to knock Matoshi, an indie designer turned phenomenon who can — and should — charge exactly what she is worth, but it’s just a fact. (Don’t think I haven’t seriously considered ordering the dress several times a day before reminding myself I need to keep a roof over my head and, you know, feed myself.)

In a way, though, fantasy is a good thing. All bodies are beautiful, but they are different, and this way we don’t have to worry about whether this seam will tug or that bottom ruffle will cause us to trip over ourselves the second we don the dress. We can draw it, make collages of it, adapt the dress into the fan art of our dreams. Those of us who are ace with a needle and thread (sadly, not me) can take inspiration from our favorite aspects — the gauzy fabric, the shiny, sexy fruit appliques, the puffy sleeves — for a gorgeous custom gown.

 

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One of my favorite, and probably queer, fictional characters, Anne Shirley, never underestimated the power of her own imagination, especially when times were tough. (Like Matoshi, “Anne of Green Gables” also appreciated a good puffed sleeve.) During this weird era of pandemics, fraught elections, and wildfires, we can look at this dress and, for a few brief moments, visualize a gentler, more loving world full of femme-possibilities.

Finally, the strawberry dress is both a love song to the queer summer that could have been and a pink and sparkly beacon of hope for what’s to come.

Even as I write this, I frequently click over to the tab with the OG strawberry dress, study it lustily, and sigh at the glitter-fruit, the sweet strings tying the bodice, and the fetching ruffles. Would it actually flatter my body? Who cares? I’m too busy spinning fantasies about where I would wear the dress (a garden party full of my closest femme friends, naturally, but also just around my house) as well as how I’d style it (the red sequined flats I found years ago for $8 for a high-low aesthetic, my most kissable lippie, and maybe some thick black eyeliner on my lids for contrast), and the fetching company I’d attract (ideally, Matoshi’s goth variation so the two of us could recreate fan art).

 

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A very wise friend put it like this: “[The dress is] a high femme fantasy, because we are all living in yoga pants and sweatshirts and haven’t worn makeup in a month, and we just want to go to a WEDDING and drink VODKA STRAWBERRY LEMONADE and kiss our GIRLFRIEND.” The majority of us can’t do any of these things right now, and we miss them. Like so many months before it, the summer of 2020 is fading fast, and there’s nothing we femmes can do about it. When we gaze upon the majesty of the strawberry dress, however, we can hold on to the glittery hope that there will be gay weddings and pink dresses and pretty drinks and sweet make-outs. If we can endure the horror that is the here and now, we’ll have these memories-to-be-made as a reward for our patience. We hope.

The strawberry dress is more than just a passing fad. It’s an acknowledgment of the femme way of life that’s often pushed to the side. It’s a reminder that even as an adult — especially as an adult — dreaming is not only okay but essential. And most of all, it’s optimism wrapped up in the loveliest, lightest package. Tell me not to buy it.


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