Mirror, Mirror: The versatile wrap: Lots of looks from a single garment

Elizabeth Wellington gets help with a wrap from designer Roxi Suger in a New York showroom. Below, Wellington uses the wrap to produce a couple of different looks; an online guide offers 17 possible styles.
Elizabeth Wellington gets help with a wrap from designer Roxi Suger in a New York showroom. Below, Wellington uses the wrap to produce a couple of different looks; an online guide offers 17 possible styles.
Posted: October 13, 2010

It took Roxi Suger less than two minutes to twist, twirl, and tuck 38 inches of bamboo jersey into an alluring dress with a plunging neckline.

Then she transformed that same piece of black fabric into a strapless tunic. Next, a kimono shirt. Last, an ankle-length skirt.

I was at an eco-friendly New York showroom last month when I saw Suger demonstrate the versatility of her Angelrox getup. A staunch devotee of the wrap dress, I knew I had to have it.

Not only did I buy one in heather gray (retail price $149.95), I issued myself a personal challenge: I was to wear the Angelrox wrap for seven days straight without repeating a look. With an online guide to walk me through 17 possible styles - although Suger says there are an infinite number - there was no reason I couldn't pull it off.

"There are so many ways to wear it," Suger said in her Alabama twang. "I'm sure you'll come up with a whole lot more than seven looks."

She wasn't lying.

The one-piece-worn-a-zillion-ways has been moving beyond the Boardwalk cover-up into our ready-to-wear wardrobes for at least two years.

This summer American Apparel introduced three scarflike pieces that morph into tube tops and skirts.

The Butter dress by Nadia, a multi-style wrap available in jersey and satin, has been featured in Allure, Lucky, and Glamour magazines.

The Atlanta-based Wilbourn Sisters make a variety of printed fabrics that turn into wrap dresses for plus-size women. Last year Norma Kamali introduced an All-in-One jersey dress at Wal-Mart - it goes from a mini to a midi - for just $20.

It seems that every other boutique is selling a scarf that can double as a hood and triple as a belt. Locally, KnitWit sold out of a dual-duty wrap sweater by Lila P.

In these economically tough times, a five-for-one certainly trumps an article of clothing that can be worn just one way. But our love for the multiuse wrap may go deeper. Clare Sauro, curator of Drexel University's costume collection, says they are rooted in our most basic fashion instincts.

"It goes back to the ancient world," said Sauro, who pointed out that fit was not a concern for the ancient Romans. Lucky them. "As soon as people started weaving cloth, it became the obvious and easiest way to dress - especially in warm climates."

Plus, it could be used for more than just clothes.

"People laid it flat, used it as a blanket," she said.

Eventually, when people migrated north, colder climates demanded that they learn to sew actual pieces of clothing for warmth and horseback riding, Sauro said.

In modern times, wrapped fashions became stylish in the 1970s and '80s because of designers such as Diane von Furstenberg, who introduced the iconic wrap dress in 1973, and Issey Miyake. He made tubes of fabric that could be shaped into various pieces.

Brooklyn-based Suger - whose real last name is Sliger - said that her version of the wrap evolved from a custom wedding gown she designed in 2006. She wanted to use the dress in a ready-to-wear collection, but realized the top was too intricate and designed a wrap skirt instead.

She began experimenting and eventually created what she calls the portrait dress, her version of an off-the-shoulder wrap. Halter tops followed. Then hooded and tank dresses.

"I don't know how many versions are possible now," said the 39-year-old mother of a 3-year-old son. The Angelrox wrap is made and manufactured in Brooklyn and available in 40 stores nationwide, including Scarlet Alley in Old City. "My customers are always showing me new ways to wear it."

Today she offers three lengths in 15 colors - the classic, the 6-inch-longer lady, and the formal, 12 inches longer than the classic.

In New York, Suger helped me try at least half a dozen wrap styles. (Coincidentally, she had to show me over my own DVF dress.)

Later, I wondered if I could tie my wrap with the same deft hands as Suger. And would my friends comment on my rather sudden affinity for all things gray?

I began my mission on a Thursday - that way I could work it into my weekend wardrobe - but I was a little nervous. Scheduled to speak at a luncheon hosted by the Philadelphia Public Relations Association, I feared the portrait dress might conspicuously open up during my talk.

To calm my fears - but despite the Indian summer weather - I slipped on a pair of biking shorts and a black tank, studied the online video at www.angelrox.com, and wrapped the dress while looking in my bathroom mirror. Everything stayed put, and I even got a few compliments.

Whew.

At work Friday, I wore the wrap as a skirt with a white T-shirt and plum cardigan. Sort of schoolmarmish, but my editor said she liked it. On Saturday I went to the gym, so I had to change in the locker room in preparation for dinner with friends. This time I tried it as a strapless tunic over leggings. No need to consult the video for this. By then, I was an expert - or so I thought.

Sunday brunch at Elena's Showcase Lounge in West Philly called for a kimono-style shirt with jeggings. I ended up needing some online help for that one, but I eventually pulled it off.

Four days in, and I was growing tired of heather gray - although no one else seemed to notice. I tried a tulip-sleeved tunic. By noon, the sleeves kept rolling up to look like a tank top. I had to retie it a couple of times, and it wasn't too comfortable.

On Tuesday, I turned my wrap into a cardigan vest that I wore over a black-and-white jersey print dress. My editor giggled when she saw me. I took it off midday.

It was finally Wednesday. I attempted the hooded-shirt look so I could wear a blazer over it. By midmorning, I had to try the cowl neck. Two hours later, I went with a halter. I was rushing and my wrap technique was sloppy, so it kept coming apart. Eventually I gave up and went with the strapless tunic. I repeated one look for half a day. Does that count?

The verdict: Just because you can wear something a million ways doesn't mean you should. For the easiest looks, go with strapless tunics and skirts. Dresses are tougher. And tops are the most difficult: If you don't have time to study a video, don't bother - you'll be retying all day.


Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704. Follow her on Twitter at ewellingtonphl.

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