The Fashion Statement: A Forties Revival
In a few weeks, the official word will be out. That's when September fashion issues hit the newsstands and editors have their final say on trends after months of cataloging and analyzing thousands of collections.
Much will be said about the '40s, one of the strongest themes of the season. There will be talk of Hollywood-like glamorous gowns, somber tweeds, fur stoles, strong shoulders and the exaggerated hip-to-waist ratio. You might see aviation goggles and pilot gear à la the era of Amelia Earhart and Beryl Markham. Models could be channeling Katherine Hepburn or Joan Crawford.
It seems to be a universal truth: It takes about 20 years for a trend to circle back around again. Looks we embraced 10 years ago are hideous now. Anybody up for a squared-toed, two-inch heel from Gucci, circa 1999? See what I mean? But 20 years ago is a different story. Look around, '80s references are mainstream: skinny jeans, flats and leggings everywhere.
But what's going on when a decade from the last century pops up? Big shoulder pads on a jacket with a nipped-in waist suddenly looks and feels right. And everybody thinks so. The list of '40s proponents is a mile long with heavy hitters like Lanvin, Prada, Bottega Veneta, Dolce & Gabbana, Elie Saab, Aquilano.Rimondi and Hermès leading the way.
Gallery: The Fashion Statement 08/06/09
The obvious explanation is designers are paying homage to the Great Depression and the original recessionistas. "Think this year was bad?" you can almost hear them say. "Chin up, '40s women held tough jobs. And their men were nowhere around because of the war. Money was tight. Food and materials were scarce. Women were forced to be powerful. They rallied and looked good doing it."
Truth be known, though, designers were headed in this direction for the last several seasons thanks in part to the resurgence of the '80s. (BTW, the Decade of Excess was a nod to the '40s prompted by a different reason. Women wanted to be powerful.) Shoulders were getting more prominent whether they were rounded, sharpened or padded. Waists were more clearly defined by wide belts and obi sashes. Hips were more embellished either by origami-like pleats, boning or billowing silhouettes.
"What I love most about the '40s in this decade is that it truly celebrates women's curves," celebrity stylist and author Barbara Horowitz told me. "Every woman looks divine in a pencil skirt and a '40s-style jacket. If you have curves, this look highlights your best assets. If you don't have curves, the pencil skirt will create them."
All analyzing aside, maybe tracing a trend is as simple as that. It just works.