Lisa Armstrong on ﬁnding your way through spring’s thicket of trends
Fashion in 2017 is nothing if not rich in biodiversity. From prairie- inspired florals to newly defined waists, from hoodies to 1980s shoulder pads, it’s all going on this season. How to pick a coherent, sophisticated path through the fields of plenty? By exercising personal style, obviously.
I know. Personal style has become one of those fashion mantras that are talked about almost as much as kombucha, knitted tube dresses, Kim, Kanye, and a lot of other things beginning with K. It’s exhausting. And unlike those other things, it’s also elusive.
But think how it would have worked under the old system, where one single trend prevailed, as it was for our mothers. Under those rules, your only option this spring would have been a pair of high-waisted floral leggings. Now, that’s exhausting.
Don’t get me wrong. Those Balenciaga leggings are quite something. But they’re also quite specific. Before taking the plunge, you’d need to establish that you have the temperament to withstand the inevitable commentary that would assail you every time you put them on.
Then again, it’s important to keep an open mind and nurture your imagination. Note: This is not the same as being a fantasist, but it does not mean being alive to possibilities. Shiny leggings might not be for you, but the draped satin blouses and saucer-size pins that accompanied them in the show may be exactly the right ingredient to elevate your evening look.
Translating runway ideas into closet reality is fashion’s equivalent of coding. Okay, maybe that’s a slight oversell. But not much. Spring 2017 is all about ease. It’s all about separates, athleisure, tailoring (the oversize variety), florals, stripes (vertical, horizontal, needle-thin and plank-wide), heels, and flat-as-paper pool sliders. But most of all it’s about expanding your limits. Personal style that’s trapped on a microscope slide (rigid “good” taste and timidity being the main culprits) eventually ceases to be personal or stylish.
Rather than deciding on a mood or ticking off boxes next to set categories, I think it’s better to approach the new season with a wish list of items you’ve fallen in love with. Rare is the woman who is always one thing. Even Phoebe Philo, an architect of modern minimalism, has found a playful, kitschy side of this season, with mismatched ankle boots and sandals (Céline-ophiles are still scratching their heads about that one) and a draped cape-back pink dress.
As it happens, pink is (still) hot but now mixed with yellow, burgundy, mustard, and a bunch of other shades previously designated “fall.” Drapey midi dresses are hot too—one of 2017’s grown-up godsends. In dandelion-yellow or cornflower-blue silks at Tibi, or in shimmering jewel-coloured bias-cut satins at Roksanda (with a score of options in between), they’re flattering and versatile. Plain or patterned, sometimes with asymmetric hems, the unmissable, almost universal feature is their huge, extra-wide, extra-long statement sleeves. That’s right. You wait 20 years for a dress with arm cover and then you get a bajillion, with enough fabric on each for at least six sleeves.
Statement sleeves, beloved of Melania, are everywhere: On jackets, sweaters, boho peasant tops… It’s only a matter of time before they appear on pants.
I’m torn between finding them a fabulously easy way to add drama and idiosyncrasy to an outfit, especially at night, and wondering whether we haven’t already reached peak sleeve. However, they’re way too useful and pretty to let go of just yet, so the answer is probably to restrict yourself to just a few.
If you’ve always considered yourself more of a pants wearer, the longer lengths and soft flowiness of a fit-and-flare dress could change your mind, particularly when you see how easily it slips under and over sweaters. Think of this dress as a one-piece separate, as it also works neatly with looser, longer jackets. To rein in the waftiness, see how Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen and Jonathan Anderson at Loewe fastened corsets and basques over their dresses.
The corset-bustier-basque may just be the surprise anchor piece of 2017. I’m not talking about Madonna’s early-1990s cone-breasted curiosities so much as a waist-accentuating layer that’s designed primarily to be worn over tees, skinny ribs, and all those crisp cotton shirts and shirtdresses that remain a huge thing. In silks and linens (Victoria Beckham and Tibi), stretchy tweeds (Raey), or laced-up leathers (Alexander McQueen), the 2017 corset is demure, occasionally fierce, but hardly fetishistic—and already a bestseller on Net-a-Porter. Many of the site’s customers use them to feminise their high-waisted wide pants and ground their flyaway hobo dresses. No wonder, says Sarah Rutson, former vice president of global buying at Net-a- Porter, “when they’re such an effective way to build shape into a fluid silhouette. We’re calling them transformative pieces.”
If you’re looking for other transformative pieces, visit the reworked trench coats at Bottega Veneta, Simone Rocha, Miu Miu, Sacai, Vetements, Hermès, or Lacoste. Drop-waisted or ruffled, pared down or voluminous, stripped back to basics and configured as a long gilet with lapels that is meant to be worn as a dress, the reconceived trench is smart, functional, and sexily staid, which can be a great comfort on days when you don’t know what the hell to wear.
Remember too that you have about 64 different pant choices, among them the newest high-waisted skinnies (not to be confused with the mid- and low-rise skinnies still worn in some circles), palazzos, jumpsuits, kick flares, and midi flares. The common thread? High waists. Invest in some cropped sweaters, but not so short that you flash your navel—which is never a good look—yet short enough so that you don’t have to tuck it in and make yourself look two months pregnant. No one needs that detail.
The new jeans? An oversize pair of paper-bag-waisted khakis. Worn with a silk shirt, as Victoria Beckham did at her show, they bat straight down the utility-glamour line.
In fact, utility glamour is probably the clearest way of summing up what fashion is doing best right now. For some designers, that means playing with the codes of streetwear as well as technical- performance clothing, whether hoodies (almost as ubiquitous as statement sleeves), track pants, bombers (a fresh, youthful replacement for the cardigan), sweatshirts, shells, athletic meshes, and even bum bags, reimagined in luxury versions.
But as much as this all feels useful and right for many women now, others are happiest in traditional glamour—i.e. minus the utility. That’s there too. I’m thinking of all those ultrafeminine silk tea dresses at the newly revamped Diane von Furstenberg; Gucci’s lush, Asian-inspired embroideries; Roland Mouret’s wrap kimono jackets; Prada’s delicious kitten heels; sequins (at Dolce&Gabbana, Ralph Lauren, and Marc Jacobs, to mention just three); a rainbow of slinky satin blouses; and earrings the size of middle-ranking skyscrapers. Depending on how you wear any of the above, the look can be glitzy or romantic. Or maybe both. We’re in uncharted waters here. Enjoy the ride.
Lisa Armstrong is fashion director of The Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk).