Today is World Emoji Day. Come 2019, emojis would have been around for 20 years. After close to two decades and more than 2,500 ideograms later, there is, interestingly, only a single dress emoji in the small, shared wardrobe
By Clara Wong
It’s amazing how fashionistas, Twitterers, and Instagrammers have done so well with only one dress emoji. Yes, a sole, singular, solitary sundress. Social media diehards would not repeat-post a dress that they have worn, but emoji creators would have us believe that when we’re communicating online, one belted dress is enough. Yet, no one; no KOL is complaining. Sure, there is a blouse in the offering, but as many of you would attest to, that’s not a dress. You can buy a blouse on its own, but you wouldn’t wear a blouse just by itself. A blouse is only half an outfit, an incomplete ensemble, or, as my boyfriend would say, a plug without the socket, a bolt without the nut… until I told him to stop!
Today is no-holiday World Emoji Day, an occasion that should appeal to the users/senders who have reportedly sent 814 million emoji-containing messages via mobile phones in 2016. Apple has announced that it is “celebrating” this day by offering “more than 70 new emoji characters” to their slew of gadgets millions own. These emojis include “more hair options to better represent people with red hair, gray hair and curly hair, a new emoji for bald people, and new smiley faces that bring more expression to Messages with a cold face, party face, pleading face and a face with hearts.” People do look different—hair, smiles, et al—but apparently they don’t dress differently.
Thirty items in clothing and accessories emojis
Give or take an item or two, Apple and all other OSes and apps have mostly availed about eight articles of clothing in their tiny selection. Under the category of Clothing and Accessories, which falls under Smileys and People, there are 30 items, compared to at least 88 facial expressions available (not including the selectable skin colours ascribed to each) from a reported 2,623 official Unicode emojis in 2017. What’s puzzling to me is the presence of the graduation hat or even the top hat. Oh, there’s the crown too! Are our wardrobes akin to costume shops?
To be honest, I don’t use clothing emojis at all. The limited representation does not, well, represent my wardrobe. In fact, on Line, I like it better when the earliest iteration of Cony was without clothes (okay, Cony is a sticker, not an emoji)! If, for whatever reason I have to tell the person I am WhatsApp-ing with that I am going to wear a dress, I’d have texted, “I will be wearing my striped shirting Sacai dress”, not that I would ever need to be so specific. Or, even announce that I would be wearing a dress, but you know what some friends are like: they just have to know! 🙄
Dress, according to OSes and apps: from top left (clockwise), Apple, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Messenger
To be fair, while there is one dress emoji used by different OS or app, each is depicted differently from the other. Still, they’re all based on a single dress silhouette, as if drawn from the result of searches. Apple’s is the most three-dimensional and realistic of the group although I am not sure who’d wear this colour that could have been derived from the chart of emulsion paint—misty teal, perhaps? It is noteworthy that while Apple has aligned itself with the fashion industry, its emojis are not terribly fashionable or fashionably attired. Twitter’s dress sports very short straps which could mean the wearer likes it very high above the bust and snug at the armpit. Facebook Messenger’s strapless piece would be a delight to those who wants fashion to be more inclusive: it is generously girthed and the bustier-bodice looks proportioned for a well-endowed woman.
The thing is, face emojis can often be more specific than words, but the dress emoji is not. A red pouting face is the face of displeasure: nothing ambiguous there. But what does Microsoft’s red-dress emoji say? It is not evocative of Valentino; it does not communicate power or passion; nor does it say you’re a creature of fashion. If anything, it suggests to me something generic, standard, common—a dress unencumbered by trends. It’s girlish, which is not surprising, considering that the majority of emoji senders are young and likely sundress-loving (reportedly between ages of 25 to 29), and hence not threatening. It’s season-less too, which could mean the dress emoji, like all emojis now honoured on World Emoji Day, are timeless—to be used year in, year out, again and again.
Google ‘red dress’ and chances are, you’ll quickly find a match to the search giant’s own emoji
The red dress offered by Microsoft is perhaps the most consistent with what you may find online. While it may not get featured in Vogue, it is likely that this dress has its place in most wardrobes. As it turns out, the opposite is true too. If you search the hashtag of this dress emoji on IG (yes, it has its own hashtag #👗), you’ll be surprised that there are few dresses, sleeveless or otherwise, and fewer still in red. So it’s true: people tag blindly. To delve into this further, I looked at Google Trend, and the data today on the red dress emoji revealed that in terms of search, Iraq showed the most interest, followed by Pakistan! Maybe the Talibans aren’t rigorously enforcing rules and maybe it’s true what they say is worn under burkas.
Fashion has always been quick to adopt the icons of the online world. Emoji-emblazoned clothing, shoes, and bags are nothing new. Even Comme des Garçons launched an emoji collection, although theirs is nothing like what is commonly used in our messages. But the reverse is not the same. Emoji designers are not looking at fashion, not even Kim Kardashian’s Kimojis (admittedly there are barely any clothes there) or Virgil Abloh’s sweats and such. Which leaves us with one dress. And, oddly, that kimono, a leftover from the time emojis were conceived and first used, nearly 20 years ago, in Japan. Clearly, those Unicoders were no Hello Kitty fans.