As women switch from pulling on ath­leisure bot­toms to slip­ping into drop-hem maxis, Laura Craik ex­plores fash­ion’s new love af­fair with the dress – and whether the per­fect one really does ex­ist

ELLE (Australia) - - Street Style -

Idon’t re­mem­ber much from my child­hood, but I do re­mem­ber this: be­ing seven and run­ning home in tears be­cause I’d caught my favourite dress on a gate. The skirt was ripped from waist to hem, and I was in­con­solable. “We can mend it,” soothed my mum, not that the words “in­vis­i­ble stitch­ing” sounded very sooth­ing in her Scot­tish ac­cent (“in­vus-ibul stu-tchin”). I wasn’t a cry­baby, nor did I care whether my jeans got muddy or my shoes got scuffed. But dresses? They were dif­fer­ent. They were spe­cial.

It’s un­clear by what strange alchemy a dress in­serts it­self into the fe­male psy­che and be­comes a mini love af­fair, rather than merely “a dress”. Maybe it’s wed­dings. Maybe it’s the Os­cars. Maybe it’s a million other so­cial events that con­spire to place the dress at their centre. Ei­ther way, a woman’s love for dresses tends to blos­som young and bloom for a life­time. Of course, this doesn’t hold true for ev­ery woman. God for­bid you should feel com­pelled to wear a dress if you pre­fer trousers. This isn’t the ’50s: we can and should wear trousers any­where, even down the aisle.

And that’s ex­actly what we’ve been do­ing. Thanks to their preva­lence on the cat­walk, trouser lovers have had a pleas­ing few sea­sons of easy sep­a­rates and luxed-up sports­wear. But now, dresses are tak­ing cen­trestage, with an abun­dance of en­tic­ing cre­ations mak­ing even the most ar­dent trouser wearer yearn to bare a leg. At Chloé AW17-18, dresses were sheer and baby­doll­short or long and lan­guid. At Prada, they were beaded, tas­selled and trimmed with feath­ers. At Er­dem, they were mid-length, or­nate and steeped in his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences. And at Roksanda, they were belted, in an ar­ray of rich colours. Take away the boots and heavy coats and they tran­si­tion per­fectly as the weather gets warmer – noth­ing says “sum­mer” like a dress (ex­cept an ice-cold jug of Pimm’s drunk al­fresco in a beer gar­den).

So why has the dress re­turned with such a vengeance? “There’s noth­ing that’s eas­ier [to wear],” says Tilly Ma­cal­is­ter-smith, ed­i­to­rial di­rec­tor of Diane von Fursten­berg. “It’s such a plea­sure to slip on one item and be done. You can get a lot of mileage out of a great dress, too. I have a silk navy long-

sleeved dress from Tibi that I wore over jeans in win­ter and will wear with slides in sum­mer. I think we are re-em­brac­ing our fem­i­nine sides and en­joy­ing dress­ing up; ath­leisure hung around for one sea­son too long and we have missed the fun and spon­tane­ity of throw­ing on a dress.”

Al­ready, a num­ber of “su­per-dresses” have bro­ken rank to dom­i­nate the sea­son. JW An­der­son, a de­signer known for shirting, has aced it with his asym­met­ric me­tal­lic dresses. Cé­line’s loose shirt-dresses have proved nat­u­ral suc­ces­sors to last sea­son’s easy trousers. And Ba­len­ci­aga’s flo­ral tead­resses have been a hit with street-style stars, even if no-one wears them quite like the show’s stylist, Lotta Volkova, who teams hers with thick, ribbed sport socks.

While there’s cer­tainly a pre­pon­der­ance of hand­ker­chief hems, drop waists, bright flo­rals and lux­u­ri­ous fab­rics (chif­fon, silk, in­tri­cately wo­ven lace), with so many wildly dif­fer­ent types of dresses on of­fer, it would be re­duc­tive to pin­point one par­tic­u­lar style as key to the new look – that’s why what you wear with your dress mat­ters so much. More than its hem length or neck­line, it’s the ac­ces­sories that will an­chor your dress in the mo­ment. Volkova’s socks won’t work on ev­ery­one, but they add that req­ui­site off-kil­ter look that feels so right for now. Matches Fash­ion buy­ing di­rec­tor Natalie King­ham agrees that ca­sual is the way to go. “Team a dress with con­tem­po­rary san­dals or a loafer or lace-up,” she ad­vises. “A flat­form is a good op­tion if you’re pe­tite.”

That flat, util­i­tar­ian footwear is prov­ing a pop­u­lar ac­com­pa­ni­ment is un­der­stand­able. We love our Stan Smiths and back­less Gucci loafers: why give them up be­cause dresses are back? These aren’t frocks you have to wear with heels or a “la­dy­like” hand­bag.

It’s true that pants suits are still very pop­u­lar – Hil­lary Clin­ton may not have be­come US pres­i­dent, but her legacy en­dures. Trousers aren’t just things you pull on when it’s cold or you haven’t shaved your legs; they’re seen as a po­lit­i­cal state­ment, align­ing the wearer with a set of fem­i­nist val­ues. Yet it would be a strange world if trousers be­ing syn­ony­mous with women’s lib­er­a­tion meant dresses were di­min­ished by com­par­i­son. Just as no woman should apol­o­gise for lov­ing Bar­bie, princesses or pink (or pink Bar­bie princesses with bells on, if that’s her thing), nor should women feel any qualms about wear­ing a dress. Me­la­nia Trump’s sexy shift dresses might look like they’ve been picked by Trump to ex­ude tro­phy­wife sta­tus, but maybe that’s just her style.

Be it form-fit­ting Roksanda or wafty Gucci, woe be­tide some­one who comes be­tween a woman and her favourite dress. I still mourn the pass­ing of my Whis­tles dress, ir­re­triev­ably ripped down the back af­ter I tripped over a suit­case at the air­port. The fact that I didn’t re­alise the en­tire bag­gage-claim area had a full view of my knick­ers was a blight far eas­ier to bear than the prospect of life with­out this use­ful dress.

“My mum’s usu­ally pretty chilled – there’s a wardrobe of clothes she doesn’t wear, and some­times I get things al­tered,” says Anaïs Gal­lagher, the 17-year-old daugh­ter of in­te­rior de­signer Meg Mathews and mu­si­cian Noel Gal­lagher. “I was tak­ing this leather dress and she saw me. She said, ‘Anaïs! That’s a one-of-a-kind Alexan­der Mcqueen dress that he made for me – you can’t get it chopped into a minidress!’” That’s the thing about trea­sured dresses: age can­not wither them. Un­less they’re made of cash­mere, in which case the moths will have a good go.

Stray suit­cases and ex­per­i­men­tal daugh­ters aside, a ju­di­ciously cho­sen dress will last you a life­time. “One of my favourites is sher­bet-li­lac in a fil-coupé fab­ric from Diane von Fursten­berg,” says Ma­cal­is­ter­smith. “It’s so pretty and un­usual. And I have an Adam Lippes black sleeve­less dress that will never go out of style. I wear it all year round, and just switch out my ac­ces­sories.”

That there’s no all-per­va­sive style set­ting the tone this sea­son is all the more rea­son to dig out your old and best-loved dresses. De­spite be­ing a hoarder, I’m on the hunt for a new one – the dress that will as­suage my ev­ery sar­to­rial woe. Will I find it? Will it be as loved as the favourite one I tore aged seven? Like the per­fect man, the per­fect jeans and, in my case, the per­fect cheese, maybe the per­fect dress is just an il­lu­sion. Oh, but look­ing is such fun.


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