The Rich History Behind Fashion’s Favorite Motif: The Butterfly

The Rich History Behind Fashion’s Favorite Motif: The Butterfly


When did the butterfly movement in fashion really take flight? And how is it still making strides today? 

Related: Y2K Fashion Trends That Have Risen From The Grave and Are Now Hip Again

2021’s fashion choices can be described in one word: #throwback. This year, we saw how our feeds reflected a spillover of trends that are sourced from different eras. But one particular style made a remarkable comeback and that’s none other than Y2K fashion. 

In all its gloriously distinct odd looks, Y2K managed to become vogue yet again. We saw the resurgence of low-rise jeans, velour tracksuits and all things chunky—from shoes to accessories. Along with these also came the revival of fashion’s favorite insect motif that Y2K was obsessed with—butterflies. 

It Girls Dua Lipa and Bella Hadid can’t seem to get enough of the butterfly trend. Even Chanel paid tribute to it by placing it on the runway for their “Flight of the Butterflies” Spring-Summer 2022 Ready-to-Wear collection. Mariah Carey’s iconic 2000 butterfly top by Emmanuel Ungaro is also making rounds and being recreated. 

Emanuel Ungaro’s Spring 2000 Sequin Butterfly Top
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Other designer brands that have also taken the butterfly to the runway is Italian fashion house, Blufin S.p.A. Their core brand, Blumarine, showcased their Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear collection last September and it was truly commemorative of the butterfly movement in fashion.

The style has become so popular these days that it makes you wonder, where does it all root from? Did the butterfly really start spreading its wings in the 2000’s or has it been soaring way longer than we think? 

The butterfly in the fashion sense have been in the air way back the 18th century. Believe it or not, it started making strides in men’s fashion—waistcoats specifically. These apparel served as an extra layer of protection and ornamentation and during this period, they were often embellished with embroidered butterflies. 

One of the best things about fashion is how easily it can fall along the lines of art. It is boundless and limitless if you allow it to be. More importantly, it can be anything you imagine it to be. The surrealism era during the 1920’s proved this and it is quintessence of the butterfly movement. Surrealists aimed to blur the line between dreams and reality and to showcase familiar objects into a new and often bizarre light. Butterflies were one of those objects and it eventually became the icon of the period. It was a symbol for the beautiful change that was taking place, coming from the ugly aftermaths of World War I in Europe—an allusion to metamorphosis. Hence, the birth of made-to-the-nines-pieces by Coco Chanel’s greatest rival, Elsa Schiaparelli. Her 1937 summer collection featured a dress with prints of the insect in colorful hues and iridescent evening jackets that fashioned scale-like wings all over its sleeves. 

Fast forward to the 2000’s, there is of course the influence of Y2K fashion that we’ve covered initially. In today’s time, butterflies represent a positive message and a colorful symbol amidst a world embroiled in a pandemic. 

Truly, the butterfly steadily stands in its reign as fashion’s most well-loved insect. Here’s just some of the celebrities we’ve seen rocking the motif and serving red-hot looks. 

Olivia Rodrigo

Dua Lipa

Bella Hadid

Maris Racal

Zeinab Harake

Sue Ramirez

Megan Thee Stallion

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