Sexy isn’t what it used to be.

Char­lotte Her­rold ex­plores fash­ion’s provoca­tive new at­ti­tude.

ELLE (Canada) - - Elle - By Char­lotte Her­rold

Again with the sweat­pants?” This line, from Se­in­feld, flashed through my mind as I pulled on the heather-grey cot­ton-jersey dress I’d been wear­ing at least once a week since nab­bing it in Am­s­ter­dam last spring. “You know the mes­sage you’re send­ing to the world?” Jerry asks Ge­orge. “You’re telling the world ‘I give up.’”

As I ac­ces­sorized my sweats-in­spired dress with a well-worn moto jacket and black Nike run­ners (yes, the same ones I wear to the gym), I thought, “If this is giv­ing up, why do I feel so good?” The an­swer be­came clear as soon as I hit the street: I was not only com­pletely com­fort­able but also to­tally on trend.

If the fall/win­ter 2014 sea­son had a sin­gu­lar mes­sage, it was “Flats are in. And skin? Keep it cov­ered.” With the ex­cep­tion of the miniskirt— of­ten tem­pered by long sleeves and high neck­lines—the cat­walk look was cozy, cov­ered up and con­ducive to a life on the go lived in in­creas­ingly un­pre­dictable cli­mates. There were blan­ket coats at Burberry and head-to-toe knits at Marc Ja­cobs and The Row. Even Chanel’s Karl Lager­feld, who, in 2011, was quoted echo­ing Jerry Se­in­feld’s dic­tum—“Sweat­pants are a sign of de­feat: You lost con­trol of your life, so you bought some sweat­pants.” —showed ripped salmon sweats paired with knee-high flat run­ning boots.

Once upon a time, in the early 2000s, sex ap­peal was all about stilet­tos, plung­ing neck­lines and body-con sil­hou­ettes—think JLo’s in­fa­mous deep-V Ver­sace, Brit­ney Spears’ low-rise denim and Posh Spice’s many ban­dage dresses. A decade later, the mood has shifted: Now it’s sneak­ers and slouchy sil­hou­ettes that feel fresh. Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret’s 2014 “What Is Sexy” list cel­e­brated babes with laid-back, de­mure style, not bomb­shells: Alexa Chung, pic­tured in jeans, a knit sweater and a long jacket, took home “Sex­i­est Street Style” hon­ours. To­day, it seems, sex­i­ness is about women break­ing free of tired hy­per­bolic ideals of fem­i­nin­ity and re­defin­ing how they want to feel in their clothes.

What has changed? Sheila Aimette, vicepres­i­dent at global trend fore­caster WGSN, sug­gests that the ca­sual-style trend is rooted in the cul­tural main­stream’s em­brace of all things ac­tive. “The shift en­com­passes ev­ery­thing from or­ganic food to spe­cial­ized ex­er­cise classes,” she ex­plains,

not­ing that gym clothes are now stylish enough to move from desk to dance class. “Fash­ion­able func­tion­al­ity trumps su­per-sexy right now.”

Func­tion­al­ity cer­tainly rules in footwear: Flats and de­signer sneak­ers now out­pace ver­tig­i­nous heels as fash­ion must-haves. Karen Blan­chard, a New York-based street-style pho­tog­ra­pher and the blog­ger be­hind Where Did U Get That, cred­its Cé­line’s “furken­stocks”—those spring/sum­mer 2013 fur-lined orthopaedic-look­ing san­dals—as the gen­e­sis of flat footwear’s as­cent to high fash­ion. “When those Cé­line san­dals came down the run­way, ev­ery­one’s eye­brows were raised,” re­mem­bers Blan­chard. “But quickly there was this con­sen­sus of ‘It looks weird, but it’s cool.’” It was also provoca­tive: Those shoes aren’t about in­creas­ing your de­sir­abil­ity; they’re about shrug­ging at the very no­tion of de­sir­abil­ity.

Com­fort is the foun­da­tion of the trend’s ap­peal. “I love that wear­ing flats is a trend right now, but it’s some­thing I’d do any­way,” says Blan­chard, who, when we spoke, was pre­par­ing to snap the scene at New York Fash­ion Week. “I’m on the street for 12 hours at a time, lug­ging around a heavy cam­era and try­ing to el­bow other pho­tog­ra­phers out of the way!”

Thomas Tait, the Lon­don-based, Mon­tre­al­born de­signer, has won high praise—in­clud­ing this year’s LVMH Young Fash­ion De­signer Prize—for his clean, min­i­mal de­signs, where sexy style takes a back seat to sporty chic. “I don’t fo­cus on try­ing to ex­ag­ger­ate the things that women tra­di­tion­ally think of as sexy,” he says. “I’m not about the ass. Women want some­thing they feel good in. It’s only when they feel com­fort­able that they have the free­dom to ex­press sex­i­ness and con­fi­dence.”

To­day, sex­i­ness is about women re­defin­ing how they want to feel in their clothes.

So, does the sar­to­rial reimag­in­ing of sex­u­al­ity spell the death of the tow­er­ing stiletto? Can we say bye-bye to body-con? As Blan­chard points out, that’s un­likely. “There will al­ways be women who feel sex­i­est in stilet­tos,” she says. The most im­por­tant take­away of the trend, then, is that it of­fers a nu­anced in­ter­pre­ta­tion of fem­i­nin­ity: We’re no longer re­stricted to a set of de­fin­i­tive one-size-fits-all traits, whether they’re ca­sual cool or overtly sexy.

“Our ideas are con­stantly evolv­ing be­cause women are al­ways chang­ing,” ex­plains Tait. “That’s what’s so fas­ci­nat­ing about de­sign­ing wom­enswear.” Sex­i­ness, then, isn’t so much about what we wear but the at­ti­tude with which we wear it. What could be cooler than that? ■

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