The Butterly Motif Has Fluttered, Once Again, Back Into The Fashion Zeitgeist

You can thank Dua Lipa.

Courtesy of Masha Popova
Masha Popova's butterfly top embodies the fashion trend.

There are few motifs in fashion as ubiquitous as the delightful butterfly. Garnering cult attention in the 1930s courtesy of Elsa Schiaparelli’s papillon prints and then much later on as glitzy accouterments during the early aughts (thank you Mariah Carey), the insect possesses a certain It quality that lends itself to constant reinterpretation. Call it the butterfly effect — fashion is, simply put, obsessed with the flighty creature. In the year 2022, though, it seems the fashion zeitgeist has become particularly smitten with the bug, resulting in newfound manifestations of the butterfly trend that feel exceptionally inspired and poignant.

On Alberta Ferretti’s Spring/Summer 2022 runway, the luxury label unveiled cutout garments punched in the insect’s imitable shape and a monarch-patterned camisole that boasted trailing panels of silk, creating the illusion of flight. Chanel’s Spring/Summer 2022 collection was another case study in lepidopterology: A flock of models shrouded in technicolor, butterfly-printed chiffon closed out the fashion house’s October show. There was also the spring 2022 showing from Blumarine, the 1977-founded brand revamped by Creative Director Nicola Brognano to become a glossy ode to the Hot Aughts, that featured numerous belts, bustiers, and cardigans boasting the motif.

Biz Sherbert, culture editor at youth-focused creative agency The Digital Fairy, theorizes the butterfly’s omnipresence in spring and summer 2022 is profoundly symbolic. “We were all caterpillars during lockdown, cocooned in our daily athleisure uniforms, friendship bubbles, and the anxieties and hardships of the pandemic. Now, as restrictions ease, we’re re-emerging as butterflies — at least stylistically,” she tells TZR over email. “And since the butterfly is a symbol of transformation, hope, and freedom across a variety of cultures, it tracks that many would gravitate towards the aesthetic use of a symbol that has a direct parallel to our particular cultural and social moment,” she explains.

Chanel Spring/Summer 2022 SAVIKO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Alberta Ferretti Spring/Summer 2022Estrop/Getty Images
Blumarine Spring/Summer 2022 Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Sherbert adds, too, that there’s a certain feminine energy to the flighty creature that’s responsible for its recent popularity in womenswear. “The butterfly is often thought of as a symbol of femininity. It’s a connection that’s been reinforced by some of the most successful music artists of all time — who happen to be women — publicly aligning themselves with the butterfly,” she explains. Citing iconic moments like Cher’s 1974 Grammys butterfly look and Mariah Carey in the oft-imitated, glittery Spring/Summer 2000 Ungaro top, the culture expert states that the insect has become a symbol of female power in the male-dominated music industry. “And this connection,” Sherbert tells TZR, “lives on today through Dua Lipa’s election of the butterfly as her unofficial mascot (and Instagram profile picture).”

Evan Agostini/Getty Images

Clara Colette Miramon, a Berlin-based emerging label, explored the winged creature’s female connotations in its debut drop, aptly titled Butterfly Season. “I [was] inspired by the butterfly emoji,” the brand’s eponymous founder explains to TZR. “Exploring femininity, female sexuality, and how it can exist outside of the male gaze, I thought of girls who use the butterfly emoji and how they represent themselves on social media. It's a very specific type of girl, and it's a culture we developed for ourselves with a visual language that’s meaningful to us,” Miramon describes.

Ahead, discover an even more in-depth breakdown of the many ways spring and summer 2022’s butterfly trend is manifesting, with more insights from Sherbert and other industry experts. There’s an edit of items to shop, too, that’ll further inspire you to break out of your sartorial cocoon this summer.

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Symbol Of Reemergence

“Butterflies are a fun way to symbolize growth,” says Megan Gokey, Head of North America Marketing at the global payments and shopping service Klarna. “And,” she says, “as the weather warms up and we enter a new season, people have a desire to wear bright, unique pieces to symbolize how they’re feeling about reentering the world.”

Explore the butterfly’s narrative of metamorphosis by using it as a symbol of fashion re-emergence this spring and summer. Childlike butterfly jewelry, a skin-baring micro silhouette, or a highly-saturated color palette are particularly apt ways of showcasing your individualistic style.

Divine Femininity

“With my Butterfly Season collection, I explored femininity, the body, and movement through childhood memories and influences from pop culture,” Miramon tells TZR. You’ll notice certain elements from the brand’s premiere drop feel particularly referential to the ‘90s and early aughts — like its blue and white, butterfly illusion print, which emphasizes and celebrates the female form in swirling graphics.

Consider also tapping into the butterfly’s feminine energy through thoughtfully placed cutouts, billowing silhouettes, or high-shine jewelry. Search for girlish butterfly dresses are up 618% and butterfly skirts +447%, Gokey says, noting how they’re particularly popular.

Revisiting Y2K’s Butterfly Top

Whether you look back fondly on early-aughts fashion or not, a top designed in the butterfly’s literal form captures the creature’s playful charm. Plus, Klarna’s Gokey says it’s an especially popular style as of late, sharing that searches for butterfly tops increased by 254% since the start of 2022. She cites Lipa as well as Olivia Rodrigo for inciting the boost.

Below, find an edit of butterfly tops — including Cult Gaia’s Parvana Top, which founder Jasmin Larian describes as “nostalgic and artful.” She elaborates: “Each bead is intricately hand-stitched to make the beautiful veining you see on a real-life butterfly. I really wanted a couture beaded butterfly top that felt like something you can pass on to your kids and keep forever,” says Larian.

A Sartorial Swarm

One lone motif not enough for you? Create a sartorial swarm by donning a piece adorned with multiple butterflies or one that boasts an eye-catching print of the bug. In particular, Gokey shouts out butterfly sandals — like Aquazarra’s lace-up pump — as highly sought-after item for spring and summer 2022.

Doll-Like Accessories

Gokey invites you to bring an early-aughts doll to life this summer by adorning yourself with accessories inspired by the winged friend. “On Klarna, we’re seeing large spikes in butterfly hair clips, hats, and earrings, too,” she tells TZR. By and large, though, the Klarna insider says butterfly belts (+728%) are the leading insect-inspired adornment.

If, as a young child, you often wished your doll’s outfits came in human sizes, you’ll adore the butterfly purses from zany and Polly Pocket-inspired accessories label, forBitches.

Preceding Y2K

The early aughts might be the butterfly’s most discussed epoch, but there are plenty of other eras where it played a dominant role. Consider the 1990s, where the motif could often be found adorning slip dresses or colorful knitwear, as seen in Alaïa’s Fall/Winter 1991 show. (You’ll find a genuine vintage bandage skirt from the Tunisian designer’s collection available below.) And rewinding back even further, the butterfly was frequently used throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s as a symbol of new-age transformation.

Artful Insect

Many of 2022’s butterfly offerings think beyond the typical motif, abstracting the creature with a craftcore-esque take or taking inspiration from the silhouette, instead — like Maroske Peech’s fluttering, front-tie blouse. For other out-of-the-box manifestations, look also to indie label NEVE, which makes jewelry from foraged wings and preserves them in a plant-based resin.