Ginger Spice's Iconic Union Jack Dress Almost Didn't Happen

The dress — a Gucci LBD with a tea towel stitched across the front — turns 25 today.

Geri Halliwell
Geri Halliwell. Photo: Dave Benett/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On February 24, 1997, the Spice Girls took the stage at London's Earl's Court for their hotly-anticipated appearance at the BRIT Awards, often thought of as the UK's answer to the Grammys. It was the height of Spicemania, and the girls delivered an unapologetically brash performance of their new song, "Who Do You Think You Are." The group won two awards for Single and Video of the Year. But it was Ginger Spice — Geri Horner (then Halliwell) — who stole the show, thanks to her Union Jack-emblazoned dress complete with a peace symbol on the back. It was paired with red platform boots and that '90s brand of girl power confidence. The dress made an immediate impact and was splashed across the front page of every newspaper the next day, becoming a hot topic in school playgrounds and beyond.

But the iconic moment in pop culture and fashion history almost didn't happen.

Five days before the BRITs, Geri was considering her on-stage look. She'd been sent an LBD from Gucci, but was looking for something more. As the singer recounts in her 1999 autobiography If Only, after a flash of inspiration she sketched a Union Jack dress onto a piece of paper and asked her sister Karen to make it for her. The idea was met with concern. Karen questioned if it was "against the law to deface the flag." Meanwhile, Geri's stylist was worried the Spice Girl could be viewed as "racist" due to the Union Jack being the symbol of the National Front — a far-right political party in the UK. Geri was undeterred. She recalls: "Just in case, I arranged for a huge peace symbol to be stitched onto the back." Not exactly subtle, but it solved the problem of any possible confusion. Task in hand, Karen bought a Union Jack-adorned tea towel and stitched it onto the front of her sister's Gucci minidress. The rest, as they say, is history.

Geri Halliwell's Iconic Union Jack Dress Turns 25
Getty Images

Geri was by no means the first British musician to make a fashion statement with the Union Jack. Mick Jagger famously draped the red, white, and blue flag around himself for a photoshoot with a British tabloid in the '70s. British iconography later enjoyed a revival in the '90s: Oasis' Noel Gallagher played a Union Jack guitar on stage in '96, and David Bowie made a statement of his own that same year, wearing a Union Jack-emblazoned coat designed by Alexander McQueen at the VH1 Fashion Awards.

In the early '90s, Britpop was dominating the airwaves across Britain, with rival rock bands Oasis and Blur at the forefront of the male-dominated music moment. When the Spice Girls arrived on the scene, they were judged by the likes of Noel Gallagher, who belittled them for being a manufactured pop group. Although on opposite sides of the musical spectrum, both Oasis and Spice Girls were leading forces of Cool Britannia, a mid-'90s movement that celebrated British culture. No one particular group had ownership of Cool Britannia, no more so than they had ownership over the Union Jack. However, when she took to the stage at the BRITs, Geri undeniably claimed the red, white, and blue flag as her own.

Geri Halliwell
Geri Halliwell. MJ Kim/Spice Girls LLP via Getty Images

The Union Jack became synonymous with Geri and, in turn, the Spice Girls. A few months after the performance, when the group started filming their movie Spice World, the flag was made a focal point of the storyline, with the girls touring in a double decker bus decorated with the Union Jack. At the Hollywood premiere for the film, the group arrived at the historic Grauman's Chinese Theater standing on an open-top bus emblazoned with the flag. When the Spice Girls were given the Barbie treatment, Ginger's doll was dressed in her BRITs outfit. In 1998, some months after leaving the group, Geri displayed the power of her Union Jack dress once again when she auctioned it off for charity. The piece of pop culture history was sold to Las Vegas's Hard Rock Hotel for a staggering £41,320. At the time, it earned the Guinness World Record for the most expensive auctioned item from a pop star's wardrobe.

Geri Halliwell
Geri Halliwell. Mike Marsland/WireImage

Although the original dress is no longer in Geri's possession, she has revived the look many times. When the Spice Girls performed at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, Geri paid homage to her iconic '90s outfit, sporting a red minidress, complete with Union Jack detail on the back. That same year, she released a Union Jack-themed clothing collection with British high street retailer Next. Geri wore slightly more demure versions of her BRITs dress for the Spice Girls' reunion tours in 2007 and 2019.

Forevermore, when someone wears a Union Jack-emblazoned outfit, their attire will be compared to Geri's legendary look. At the very least, she will be thought of. But the Union Jack dress now extends beyond the Spice Girls. It's an integral part of our collective pop culture history. Similar to the group's Girl Power ethos, the essence of the Union Jack dress has been adopted by the masses. At the 2021 BRIT Awards, Dua Lipa paid homage to Ginger, donning a Union Jack-printed coat and skirt in a Spice Girls-meets-punk inspired ensemble. Taking to Instagram, Geri said of the tribute: "All these years later, to see it worn by a fellow sister is so special." And the Union Jack dress is set to be immortalized once more in the new Lego Brickheadz Spice Girls collection. Geri's Lego personality has been dressed in, you guessed it, a flag-adorned dress and red platform boots.

Geri Halliwell
Dave Hogan/Getty Images

It's been 25 years since Geri debuted her BRITs dress, but its influence holds true. The dress has taken on a life of its own, spawning countless reimaginings and tributes. With the rise of '90s nostalgia, fashion from that decade has never been more celebrated. And if any outfit deserves to be championed, it's Ginger Spice's tea towel x Gucci invention. Girl power at its finest.

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