When no one was paying attention, the high-fashion streetwear trend died. Rest in peace, over-priced hoodies—you no longer have a corner on the fashion market. The death knell? When Diet Prada, that Instagram account of savage truth, spotted Vetements sweatshirts and T-shirts on super sale for 80% off across the Internet. We’re talking about the end of the inflated, high fashion version of so-called “streetwear,” the Calabasas-ification of a legitimate, born-in-America look that has evolved over decades as the cultural bi-product of an urban environ, musical genres like blues, rap and hip hop, and varying forms of art and film.
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While luxury fashion brands that trade in logo hoodies are hitting the sales rack, a new, unabashedly girly vibe has taken over. Think florals, Victoriana and puff sleeves. Femininity at its baseline. The mood in fashion has taken a complete 180, where you’re more likely to see your favorite neighborhood fashion blogger in a $300 floral dress than track pants that cost somewhere in the quadruple digits.
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On the Fall 2018 runways, you have Calvin Klein’s gingham maxis, Fendi’s white lace dresses, Rodarte layered tulle, Oscar de la Renta’s epic return to gowns, Chloe’s cut-out white lace, Chanel’s literal romp through the forest. But this trend isn’t really about the runway. The fashion fairy forest nymphs filling up your social feeds are more often than not clad in direct-to-consumer, dress-heavy brands like LoveShackFancy, Doen, Reformation, Faithfull the Brand, or their French counterparts Rouje and Sézane. While sneakers of the Balenciaga, Vuitton and Gucci variety continue to sell in record numbers, when is the last time you saw a $2,000 sweat-suit on someone in person, let alone on your social media feed?
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The return to flagrant femininity follows women’s marches that turned out record-breaking numbers, the rise of pink pussy hats and the #metoo era. Are women rejecting the notion that you need to dress and act like men in order to get ahead? “It is popular knowledge that in the 1980s women took up a boxy, big-shouldered silhouette and the stylistic details of traditional menswear tailoring to fashion their entrance into the corporate world of work,” Rachel Lifter, assistant professor of fashion studies at Parsons School of Design told BAZAAR.com. “Indeed, the power suit of the working girl—to borrow the title of the iconic 1988 film— is probably the most recognizable symbol of fashionable feminism.”
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Lifter attributes the move towards ultra-femininity with a renewed refusal to participate in bourgeois society—a return to historical bohemia, which dates back to the early 19th century. “The bohemian style—through dress and behavior—continues to influence fashionable femininities,” she explains. “Think the sartorial style of pop performers like Florence Welch, the enduring legacy of Stevie Nicks as a style icon, and the ‘boho chic’ Coachella look, among other examples.”
Perhaps it’s a way for women to rebel against an increasingly hostile cultural conversation—the constant threat of overturning Roe v Wade, the nomination of a conservative, anti-choice Supreme Court justice, and a sitting president who has a history of abusive behavior and language towards women. Or, perhaps women just want to put on a pretty dress and possibly frolic in an open field of lavender after so many seasons of masculine suiting and oversized sweatshirts.
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Rebecca Hessel Cohen, founder of floral-friendly, ethereal ready-to-wear brand LoveShackFancy, is in the camp that women are simply ready to lean into their feminine natures again. “I think women are confident, powerful and comfortable being ultra-feminine and romantic again. Now is a time when you can be all these things together—it’s not about a power suit but instead about a flowy dress that exudes femininity and makes you feel dreamy, magical, sexy and powerful all in one,” says Hessel Cohen. “It’s an ode to the past. It’s heritage. Everything is moving so quickly in this world, so maybe this brings back a traditional sensibility—a time when handwork and attention to detail were so important.” The five-year-old brand has blown up in recent months, experiencing exponential sales growth according to Hessel Cohen and increased visibility (if our Insta feeds are any indication) so she must be onto something.
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On her podcast Juicy Scoop, comedienne Heather McDonald talked about her recent trip to the East End of Long Island and the general style vibe she witnessed there. Everyone had on “these flowy dresses that kind of make it look like you can be a polygamist, if you were in Utah, if you are in the Hamptons you wear it with $700 Gucci tennis shoes.”
But no one says it better than Gloria Steinem herself. When asked what she wears to feel like “the queen of business and a rad bitch,” Steinem famously told Lena Dunham: “[I like to wear] something that has a resonance from the past before patriarchy came along.” In that case, a wispy maxi floral sounds like just the uniform for women ready to topple the patriarchy—Balenciaga Triple S’s optional.