Let’s just say that you are—hypothetically—a wealthy 1930s socialite and you—theoretically—spend your days eating bon bons while your husband avoids coming home, and so you—allegedly—slipped some arsenic into his whiskey. When the police show up to investigate, what are you wearing? Obviously, a marabou robe. A sheer, sweeping dressing gown (maybe in pale pink, white, or black) with bell sleeves trimmed with an impossible number of feathers, and a train so light and diaphanous it floats around the body instead of falling.
This is the husband-killing, rich widow robe. Not worn by any actual murders, as far as I can tell, but a visual shorthand used in films for almost a century and as a meme that just won’t die. Most recently, it went viral in early 2021 when TikTokers discovered such robes that could be Amazon Primed to your door, but it’s been simmering in the background for 90 years. Rising to prominence in the 1930s, when movies offered a fantastical break from the chaos and uncertainty of the times, it had a comeback in the 2010s and 2020s on the runways, in music videos, and most importantly, on social media.
Jean Harlow, Marlene Dietrich, Lizzo, Marilyn Monroe, and Rihanna have all worn a close version of this dress, whether it was made by Gucci for the red carpet or Christian Dior for a Hitchcock film. It’s a gown for the woman who is anything but casual, and who revels in her impenetrable opulence. It’s one of the rare pieces of clothing that communicates a full backstory just by its existence.