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I'm Clifford Stumme, and I use literary analysis and research to explain the deeper meanings of pop songs. Feel free to leave a comment or to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "Dress" by Taylor Swift mean?

What does "Dress" by Taylor Swift mean?

"Dress" Lyrics Meaning 

I don't usually insert my opinion into my lyrics explaining blog posts, but I'll admit that "Dress" is one of the most interesting songs Taylor Swift has released to date. But it's not because the lyrics are deep or interesting or anything. It's the subject material. Never before has she gotten this sexy and this edgy, and if people are talking about anything controversial on Reputation, it's usually this song. But is this song really that sexual? Is it really that odd to hear from Taylor Swift? Yes, and, yes, but let's get into it anyway. 

"Only bought this dress so you could take it off" 

The meaning of the lyrics of "Dress" focuses around the idea of Taylor Swift singing to some unknown guy (the Internet would have us believe British actor Joe Alwyn) who she finds very attractive sexually and who she's sharing a secret fling with. The song largely focuses on her feelings about him and about them being in bed together. 

Wanna go deeper on this song? Check out my podcast!

Verse 1

Our secret moments in a crowded room
They got no idea about me and you
There is an indentation in the shape of you
Made your mark on me, a golden tattoo

The first verse of "Dress" highlights the secret nature of their relationship and shows them winking to each other when no one else knows they're together. But even though no one knows, "There is an indentation in the shape of you" in Taylor's bed, which likely means they've been together for a while. The "golden tattoo" is a little harder to parse (unless it's an actual tattoo), but it at least points to this "mark" he's made on her being a good one. 

Pre-Chorus

All of this silence and patience, pining and anticipation
My hands are shaking from holding back from you (ah, ah, ah)
All of this silence and patience, pining and desperately waiting
My hands are shaking from all this (ah, ha, ha, ha)

In the pre-chorus, Taylor Swift complains about "all of this silence and patience, pining and anticipation" even while her "hands are shaking from holding back from you." She wants him badly and can barely restrain herself.  

Chorus 

Say my name and everything just stops
I don't want you like a best friend
Only bought this dress so you could take it off
Take it off (ha, ha, ha)
Carve your name into my bedpost
’Cause I don't want you like a best friend
Only bought this dress so you could take it off
Take it off (ha, ha, ha, ha)

In the chorus lyrics of "Dress," Taylor Swift tells him that when he says her name, "everything just stops" because she's so obsessed with him. And while some people want their romantic partner to be their best friend as well, that's the farthest thing from Taylor's mind as she reveals that she "only bought this dress so you could take it off." Her telling him to "carve your name into my bedpost" suggests she wants permanence in their relationship, making it "impossible" for her to bring future lovers to bed since they'll see his name there. She's dedicated to him.  

Verse 2

Inescapable, I'm not even gonna try
And if I get burned, at least we were electrified
I’m spilling wine in the bathtub
You kiss my face and we're both drunk
Everyone thinks that they know us
But they know nothing about

In the second verse of "Dress," Taylor Swift sings that this fellow's "inescapable" and that she's "not even gonna try." She's going to keep going towards him even if the electricity of their romance "burns" her. The reference to "spilling wine in the bathtub" could be them roughhousing or her being distracted while she thinks about him--either way it also communicates a level of lavishness in her lifestyle. 

She describes him kissing "my face" while they're "both drunk" and enjoying each other. She laughs because while "everyone thinks that they know us," "they know nothing about" who they really are, that their relationship exists, or that it's so sexually charged--a fair statement considering that this song was a surprise to most of her listeners. 

Bridge

Flashback when you met me
Your buzzcut and my hair bleached
Even in my worst times, you could see the best of me
Flashback to my mistakes
My rebounds, my earthquakes
Even in my worst light, you saw the truth in me
And I woke up just in time
Now I wake up by your side
My one and only, my lifeline
I woke up just in time
Now I wake up by your side
My hands shake, I can't explain this
Aha, ha, ha, ha

In the bridge, Taylor Swift recalls when they met each other. She seems to use their hairstyles back then to suggest that neither was perfect or or that neither was being true to themselves since that line leads write into one that goes, "Even in my worst times, you could see the best of me." He's always had a talent for bringing the best out in her despite her "mistakes," "rebounds," and "earthquakes." Even when she's volatile, he knows the true her--even in her "worst light, you saw the truth in me," she sings. 

And before she could go too far down that dark road, she sings, "And I woke up just in time" to "wake up by your side." Being with him is contrasted as the opposite to being a darker, worse version of herself. She thanks him by describing him as "my one and only, my lifeline"--he saved her.

But despite most of the bridge focusing on the emotional aspects of the relationship, Taylor ends by referring back to her shaking hands that reflect her desire for sex with him: "My hands shake, I can't explain this."

 

Deeper Meaning of "Dress" by Taylor Swift: Is the Old Taylor Truly Dead?

Is the Old Taylor truly dead? I honestly believe so. And here's why: everyone is constantly changing and becoming someone new and different. Every experience we have shapes us and pushes us to become a slightly different person than we were the minute before. 

Is Taylor Swift a significantly different person than she was five years ago? Are you? People are going to change (hopefully for the better), and considering the progressions of artists like Demi Lovato or Selena Gomez, it's no surprise that Taylor Swift has taken a sexier turn with some of her music videos, costumes, and this song. Perhaps the better question is to ask why this didn't happen sooner. 

Now, of course, this Internet and her listeners are going to battle back and forth on whether or not the New Taylor is better or worse than the Old Taylor, but there's simply no satisfying answer. The Old Taylor is the Old Taylor, and the New Taylor is the New Taylor. People change. People move on.

The question for us is how will we change or grow in response? Who does the New Taylor prompt you to be? What have we learned from "Dress" and from Reputation?

What does "Dancing with Our Hands Tied" by Taylor Swift mean?

What does "Dancing with Our Hands Tied" by Taylor Swift mean?