Spring Edition! 7 Fashion Revivals We’d Like To See

woman in blue dress with summer gloves

It’s the Dismantle After Party Spring Fling! While we wait for the rain to turn grey and brown things into leaves and flowers, we’re imagining fashion revivals we’d like to see more of. From bustles to summer gloves, layering t-shirts to space age fantasy metal dresses, it seems we’re all wishing fashion would take itself less seriously. Let’s be honest, winter can be great but this one has been A Bummer. Maybe that’s why, as we anticipate the season for new beginnings and re-awakenings, we’re dreaming of more room for clothes that are playful, fanciful, or gratuitously pretty.

Jennifer Saxton: Bustles, Phrygian Caps, and a new Peacock Revolution (also, hats)

Oh my god, Becky. Look at her bustle. Evening dress, 1884-86, Met Museum Collection

 I have three. The first is totally frivolous. I would love for the bustle to come back–the totally impractical, space wasting, ridiculous looking, bustle with its weird round hump around the derriere. It has no place in modern society, but I love it in the same way I love my fountain pen. Honestly I love almost all 19th century clothing, even the weird 1840s stuff that looks like a pilgrim met up with an insect and had a baby, or the crazy mother goose/wicked stepsister look of the 1830s, all ruffles, and big hair and even bigger sleeves. The 19th century was a terrible time, and I certainly wouldn’t want to live in it, but the fashion is gorgeous.

Red-capped revolutionaries!

The second is the Phrygian cap. The Phrygian cap is a red brimless woolen head covering with a rounded tip that curves up from the back of the head and over the crown. Yes, it is a red Smurf hat. They were worn by French Revolutionaries, and at various other times, to represent liberty, equality and fraternity. It might be a nice substitution for people who would like to wear some kind of unifying hat for protest marches. With the pink pussy hat getting negative criticism by some for being exclusive to bearers of vaginas, perhaps it would be a nice substitution for a unifying garment. The cockade, or tricolor ribbon pleated into a circle, could be used to identify different groups or support for various causes. (Rainbow, the trans colors, pink, etc.) I loved the pussy hat, and made several, but if people are concerned it might be another option.

Ok, maybe Jennifer didn’t mean this exactly…

The third is the return of bright colors, complex patterns, and decorative elements of dress for men. I spend a lot of time hanging around with guys, and shopping for costumes for male characters, and the muted, toned down, limited color palette for cisgender men is really bumming me out. If you look in a fashion history book, the male color palette of the past was immense, and they wore things like lace, ribbons, elaborately patterned fabric, and embroidery. When I enter a room filled with cis males, it stuns me how very narrow the acceptable range of color, texture and embellishment is. I would love to see a wider range of acceptable embellishment and color come back into fashion for men.

Also, hats.

Dawn Lee Tu: T-shirt Over Long Sleeve T-shirt

What. I still do this. I don’t know why this trend went out of style. It’s so practical to throw a t-shirt over a long sleeve, especially when I’m camping or at a bonfire at the beach. Layering is a skill, right? Wait, is this really out of style? What if I wear a jacket and no one sees that I’m wearing a long sleeve shirt underneath? Who made this rule?  

Hey, it’s Jennifer Aniston!

Sara Tatyana Bernstein: Sack-backs

Robe à la Française
Robe à la Française ca 1778-86, Met Museum Collection

I don’t have any particular fondness for 18th century European fashion. I appreciate it as art and history, of course. But most of it is too distant from my world, too much fabric, too heavy and space-consuming to really imagine myself in it. And nostalgia for imperialist aristocracies seems profoundly inappropriate given how close “let them eat cake” is to official US policy these days. There is one style though, that I’ve always thought was just too beautiful and flattering to be tucked away in archival tissue paper. I’m talking about the sack-back gown. Also known as the robe a la francaise, the style, with various modifications, was popular for a large chunk of the 18th century. It basically describes a pleated swath of fabric that drapes off the nape and flows down the back of a dress.

In its original incarnations, the look could display very expensive textiles while embodying the organic decadence of Rococo. And it actually has come back more than once. Balenciaga was probably the modern designer most associated with it, and his use of that extraneous little cape helps explain why I like it so much. It’s a particularly gorgeous example of how fashion hasn’t always been synonymous with youth. In the late 1950s and early 60s, a time when something called the “teen-ager” was starting to set trends, Balenciaga designed for and was adored by “women of a certain age”. He proved that fashion could work on and with older bodies. The sack-back is comfortable (it grew out of the early 18th century robe volante a relatively informal style that developed scandalous associations because it could supposedly hide illicit pregnancies). It creates an effortlessly chic silhouette that lets your clothes do the work of looking good while you relax (preferably in your Paris penthouse surrounded by Persian rugs and fluffy white dogs). Scoliosis? Or just feel like slouching? No problem! Back fat? Who cares! Look at my pretty pleats! (If you’re not convinced, watch this video of a woman wearing Balenciaga’s sack dress in Paris. Women these days! They have so much audacity!)

Tyler Snazelle: Futuristic Fantasies

I long for the fantastical, futuristic, space-exploration fashion of the 1960’s to reimagine itself in 2018.

The 1960s were filled with new possibilities for the future after the end of the second World War, and fashion certainly reflected society’s rapid thirst for change and innovation. With the space race in full swing as well as a slew of new materials such a plastics, PVC, spandex, rayon, nylon and various metals to incorporate, fashion’s imagination of dressing for the future & beyond seemed limitless. Space was a place where the design imagination could shake itself free of traditional constraints much the way literature, film and television pushed the boundaries under the guise of science fiction. Designers like Andre Courreges and Paco Rabanne epitomized 1960s space exploration fashion with CoCo Chanel naming Rabanne, “the metallurgical fashion genius.”

Incorporation of technology into fashion has brought us smart and tech-wear with materials able to respond to body temperature, touch, light and a slew of other responsive innovations, but where is the fantasy and whimsy that allows us to imagine the way we dress reflects our vision of what the future is?! Is it genderless? Does it obliterate archaic categorization somehow in a wild shiloulette with the perfect 10 inch tall matching hat?

Surely our imaginations can do better than making “smart” or tech fashion,  look like “normal” fashion. Give me shiny, give me bold…give me a glimpse of a future worth dressing for, 2018.

Dynel (Cardine) 1968, France Gift of Lauren Bacall, 70.62.1 Lauren Bacall: The Look Photograph by Eileen Costa The Museum at FIT;
Pierre Cardin, Dynel (Cardine) 1968, France Gift of Lauren Bacall, 70.62.1 Lauren Bacall: The Look, Photograph by Eileen Costa The Museum at FIT

Christina Owens: Summer Gloves

These summer gloves have polka-dots!

In the Easter outfits of my 1980s childhood, there were almost always hats. This I know for sure. I have this image of myself tromping through spring grass in a state park, the ribbon on my hat trailing behind me, and when I find an Easter egg, I pick it up gingerly between my white gloved fingers and place it in my basket. Only, I’m not sure if this last part is true. Did I wear gloves? Perhaps I am starting with the wrong image here? Perhaps the gloves I remember are the fingerless lace ones favored by Madonna and worn by so many children who bowed to her status as style goddess? These, of course, were the same years that Michael Jackson wowed us all with his dance moves while sporting a single sequined glove. Perhaps there was a tiny moment in the 1980s when gloves – quite apart from their warmth and functionality – were celebrated for fashion’s sake and fashion’s sake alone. But, even these summer-worthy, fashionable gloves felt like costuming – more suited to entertainment and ritual than a part of everyday adult life.

The disappearance of summer gloves from our fashion repertories is a sad reality for now. Before the 1960s, women (especially those of means) wore gloves regularly and were sure to own several pairs for optimal outfit coordination. The remains of these light summer gloves are available at vintage stores around the country and some collectors are positively obsessed with them. Thanks to my stint living in the Midwest, I own a few pairs myself. And yet, while I can find occasions when I feel comfortable wearing a 1940s pin-up dress or a 1950s feathered crescent hat, it is hard to muster the courage to combine these with my wrist-length, cotton gloves that are decorated with three small buttons and ruching. Somehow, it looks like too much.

Christina makes a very strong case in stripes.

I am nothing if not persistent though. My current work-around is to wear long summer gloves that I buy during my visits to Japan. Made to fit around the thumb and leave the tips of fingers open for dexterity, these gloves usually go past the elbow and are made of breathable fabric. The functionality is obvious: sun protection during Japan’s hot summer months. And yet, they are also fashionable, coming in floral and striped patterns or overlaid with cotton lace. I wear these while hiking and driving and walking about town during the summer. While they don’t feel overly formal or archaic like my vintage gloves, I know that in Japan at least they are associated with age. Young Japanese people don’t wear them much and this makes me worry that they might also eventually disappear from fashion. Maybe one day I’ll have to visit vintage stores in Japan looking for the remarkably well-tailored sun gloves of yesteryear. This thought makes me sad.

For now, I look longingly at my small collection of vintage summer gloves and I keep scheming, trying to imagine ways that we can bring this fashion item back – trying to envision a world in which the functionality of sun protection can combine with an appreciation for vintage elegance, and not seem over-the-top.

Want to keep the party going? Check out the first entry in this series, 6 Mocked Styles We Actually Love.

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Jenny Saxton-Rodríguez is an Associate Professor in the Theatre department at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in southmost Texas, where she teaches costume design and construction and other courses. She has worked as a freelance costume designer and/or costume shop manager from the Midwest to the Northeast and Texas. She enjoys reading (N K Jemisin, Erika Johansen, Ben Aaronovitch) and knitting (badly), as well as playing nerd games with her husband Omar and their two children.
Sara Tatyana Bernstein
Sara is the co-founder of Dismantle Magazine. You can also find her writing on Catapult, The Outline, Racked, BuzzFeed Reader, and more. Most of her work is about everyday fashion and consumer culture, with forays into pop culture, higher ed, and labor.
Christina D. Owens is an assistant teaching professor in the Honors Program at Florida State University. She has published multiple articles with Dismantle and contributed to Dismantle's After Party collections on Mocked Styles, Fashion Revivals, and Back to School Fashion. You can also find her academic writing in the journals New Global Studies, American Studies, and Transformations. She is currently working on a book about how U.S. migrants deploy white male victimhood discourses within the context of contemporary Japan. To learn more about her teaching and research see her website: www.christinaowens.net. You can also follow her fashion adventures on Instagram @Dr.SmartyPants.PhD.