Prairie State of Mind

We go where the deer and the an­te­lope play.

Fashion (Canada) - - Products - By Is­abel B. Slone

In his novella Sell Out, Amer­i­can hu­morist Si­mon Rich tells the story of Her­schel, a hum­ble Jewish man who im­mi­grates to Brook­lyn at the turn of the cen­tury and ac­ci­den­tally falls into a pickle bar­rel. A hun­dred years later, he is fished out of the brine, not hav­ing aged a day, by a band of con­cep­tual artists re­claim­ing in­dus­trial ware­house space. After emerg­ing from his salty prison, Her­schel must con­tend with the ab­sur­di­ties of mod­ern Brook­lyn, in­clud­ing blogs, Whole Foods and un­paid in­tern­ships. Now, one of the most prom­i­nent trends of 2018 is enough to make you won­der if you’ve stum­bled into your very own pickle-bar­rel time ma­chine in re­verse. Walk down a ma­jor street in any siz­able city—or scroll through the vir­tual town square of In­sta­gram—and

Prairie dresses are the epit­ome of IDGAF fash­ion; to wear a dress that’s so ag­gres­sively old-fash­ioned it verges on par­ody is the ul­ti­mate non­con­formist move.

you’ll no­tice an in­flux of women wear­ing leg-of-mut­ton sleeves and frilly pie-crust col­lars that would likely make Her­schel breathe a sigh of re­lief. The pi­o­neer—lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively—of this new home­steader look is Batsheva Hay, founder of the la­bel Batsheva, whose chintzy cre­ations have earned her a spot on the short list for the CFDA/Vogue Fash­ion Fund award. She be­gan de­sign­ing dresses after she took one of her de­cay­ing vin­tage Laura Ash­ley finds to a tai­lor, who told her it was ir­repara­ble. Hay de­cided to re­make the dress, and with a few tweaks to the pat­tern to up­date it for the cur­rent decade, her nos­tal­gic past-meets-present line was born. Since then, Hay’s wares have found celeb fans in Natalie Port­man, Chloë Se­vi­gny and Busy Philipps. (Some­what iron­i­cally, Se­vi­gny has donned the prairie look as much in her pro­fes­sional life as in her per­sonal life, play­ing a Mor­mon sis­ter wife in Big Love and, most re­cently, the axe-wield­ing mur­der­ess Lizzie Bor­den, who dons puffed sleeves that would make Anne Shirley hy­per­ven­ti­late, in the film Lizzie.) Batsheva’s pieces have also be­come the un­of­fi­cial uni­form of ar­biters of down­town New York cool. They’ve been spot­ted on Vogue’s Sally Singer, on The Wing’s co-founder Au­drey Gel­man and on Hai­ley Gates, the host of Vice­land’s States of Un­dress.

“Hay’s dresses have a cer­tain fa­mil­iar­ity that feels fresh and un­pre­ten­tious in this post-Ce­line streetwear cli­mate we’re in right now,” says Jane Aldridge, the Texas-based blog­ger be­hind Sea of Shoes, who pairs her prairie dress with furry Chloé slides. An­other Batsheva fan, Rachel Tashjian, fash­ion fea­tures ed­i­tor at Garage mag­a­zine, at­tributes some of the look’s pop­u­lar­ity to a rather coun­ter­in­tu­itive ease of wear. The dresses might look fussy, but “once you put [one] on, you can al­most for­get that you’re wear­ing it—un­til some­one looks at you like ‘Why is that per­son wear­ing that crazy dress?’” she says.

At this point, you might find your­self ask­ing “Isn’t it a touch re­gres­sive to adopt a style that hear­kens back to an era when women were con­sid­ered glo­ri­fied prop­erty?” Not ex­actly. Prairie dresses are the epit­ome of IDGAF fash­ion; to wear a dress that’s so ag­gres­sively old-fash­ioned it verges on par­ody is the ul­ti­mate non­con­formist move. The pop­u­lar­ity of prim an­kle-graz­ing styles is con­cur­rent with the rise of modest dress­ing, which is no longer just the prov­ince of re­li­gious women who choose to min­gle faith with fash­ion. The cur­rent rel­ish for Laura In­galls Wilder dresses is less a dik­tat from a vil­lain­ous ca­bal of de­sign­ers con­spir­ing to make women look ridicu­lous than an au­tonomous sar­to­rial choice that women (al­beit ones who are pri­mar­ily thin and white) are very much mak­ing for them­selves.

Which ex­plains why Batsheva isn’t alone. Rather, it’s among a co­hort of emerg­ing brands that in­cludes Bode, a menswear line that re­pur­poses an­tique tex­tiles into pieces like work­wear jack­ets, and Dôen, a de­sign col­lec­tive whose sweep­ing flo­ral dresses skew slightly more Lau­rel Canyon than Amer­i­can Mid­west.

Even the big-name de­sign­ers are hop­ping on the cov­ered wagon. Coach has pa­raded high-necked maxidresses with a pro­fu­sion of ruf­fles down its run­ways for the past two sea­sons—dresses that would read as de­mure had the mod­els wear­ing them not adopted an at­ti­tude of to­tal hos­til­ity. The al­ways-ethe­real Ulla John­son showed modest girl­ish dresses with vo­lu­mi­nous sleeves and cro­chet de­tails for spring, as did Jonathan Simkhai. Even Raf Si­mons, the prince of aes­thetic rigour, was hon­oured by the Amer­i­can Folk Art Mu­seum ear­lier this year for his use of quilts in his de­signs at Calvin Klein.

This wide­spread em­brace of an­ti­quated modes of dress chal­lenges the cur­rent vogue for ironic dress­ing. (See: dad sneak­ers and Off-White’s du­bi­ous quo­ta­tion marks.) In con­trast, glo­ri­fied prairie dress­ing is al­most painfully earnest. “There’s so much in­ter­est and em­pha­sis and ex­cite­ment and hype around streetwear, and it doesn’t look like that,” says Tashjian. Per­haps the new-found ap­petite for fuss-bud­get frills demon­strates women’s des­per­a­tion for cloth­ing that re­quires a bit more ef­fort and pur­pose to carry off.

A PR per­son once made an off­hand com­ment that Batsheva dresses “are like the of­fi­cial wardrobe of the #MeToo move­ment,” Hay re­counted in an ar­ti­cle in

Glam­our. But it would be in­cor­rect to sug­gest that cor­re­la­tion equals cau­sa­tion. “I just think women are look­ing for new direc­tions of how to present them­selves in the world,” sug­gests Naomi Fry, a staff writer at The New

Yorker. “Women want to have more op­tions, and [prairie dresses are] now one that looks fresh and cool, young in­stead of old, hip in­stead of dowdy.”

It just so hap­pens that this par­tic­u­larly chaste form of dress­ing—once so retro that one sus­pected it would be con­signed to the metaphor­i­cal pickle bar­rel for­ever— res­onates more with the mod­ern world than any­one could ever have an­tic­i­pated.


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