MOORHEAD, Minn. — Hilary Ray was never a big fan of “Little House on the Prairie,” but when she heard about the online #targetdresschallenge, she decided it was time to step back in time. Again.

“I will seize upon any excuse to dress up. I like playing dress-up,” says the Moorhead woman.

Playing dress-up is what the so-called Target Dress Challenge is all about. The hashtag has been trending on social media for the last month or so — ever since Target started selling garb plucked not from a runway, but from an 1870s Midwestern mercantile.

Women have modeled the frock, often standing in a field or on a farm, sometimes with exquisitely trolling commentary.

Wit and period apparel are two things Ray sports with glee, so when social media issued the #targetdresschallenge, she picked up the gauntlet.

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Ray and her husband, Malcolm, moved to Moorhead after spending more than 30 years in Fairfax County, Va., the home of Mount Vernon, George Washington’s plantation. There, the couple belonged to a Revolutionary War-era reenactment group.

They brought their period-appropriate attire with them and dress up for more than just Halloween. At the 2017 Women’s March in downtown Fargo, while many participants were wearing pink pussyhats, Ray rocked a black-and-white frock and bonnet from about the 1780s.

Hilary Ray wore a 1780s outfit to the 2017 Women's March in Fargo. Special to The Forum
Hilary Ray wore a 1780s outfit to the 2017 Women's March in Fargo. Special to The Forum

Sporting an outfit women would’ve worn around the signing of the Declaration of Independence made sense at the political march. Target turning fashion back 150 years during a pandemic, not so much.

“How did Target decide this is the aesthetic where we were after about 12 months of lockdown?” Ray asks.

Anna Lee, a local artist and fashion designer who has worked with, for and around Target for 20 years, says it’s not by accident. She points to the cottage core movement.

“The prairie dress has been around for a while, so it did not come out of nowhere, but I love that now that it is at Target, anyone can have their day in cosplay,” she says with a laugh.

“It’s an interesting thing with COVID-19. Trends are not as visible in the ‘real world’ but are very much online for certain demographics. So the cottage core trend may be lost on a majority of people but very important to certain demographics.”

She points out that if you look online, most of the dresses are sold out.

When Ray visited the store, she only found a limited selection. She picked her size, bought it and went home. The verdict?

“Well, it’s not a flattering cut,” she says. “It fits like a sack, like John Goodman, circa 1990.”

Hilary Ray poses in her Target dress. Special to The Forum
Hilary Ray poses in her Target dress. Special to The Forum

She said there are some positives to the outfit. She liked the pattern of the prairie dress, a cotton and rayon blend.

And there are pockets, she says, adding that when women’s garments do feature pockets, they are as much as 20% smaller than men’s, “so small and stupid so whatever you have in there will fall out or you can’t extricate it at all.”

Ray doesn’t know where one would wear this dress.

“I don’t know if you’d wear it to your job, but so many of us are working from home now,” she says. “You would exclusively wear this for comfort, or silly photos.”

And now that she’s taken her own silly photo, she’s looking to give the dress away and pay the challenge forward.