How Women and Designers are Inspired by Retro Clothes

The return of the waist in the middle of the decade heralded a new retrospection in fashion, as women were once again allowed to indulge their curves in vintage inspired silhouettes and feminine retro prints. The weekly glossies seized a new buzz word, “cinching”, and featured pages upon pages of peplums, peep-toes and pencil skirts, reincarnating the womanly allure of the 1940s and ‘50s.

But as we approach the end of the decade, this highly polished femininity is less popular with young women, who now feed off harder edged retro aesthetics such as rock, rockabilly, punk, fetish and grunge.

Retro Trash Usurps the Throne of Vintage Glamour

A style-conscious late-teenager five years ago might have graced the tiles in tulip skirts and envelope clutches, Victorian blouses and high-waisted city shorts, galaxy dresses and patent heels.

In 2010, her little sister prefers stone washed jeans, lacy bustiers, lumberjack shirts, Doc Martens, and biker jackets. Her favourite evening ensemble is an oversized Iron Maiden T-Shirt nipped in with a gold studded elasticated cummerbund, opaque tights and eighties ankle boots, of battered buttery leather.

She picks out elements of the old style femininity – a wasp-waist and a seductive lace – but toughens them up with heavy masculine fabrics, slouchy shapes, and glam accessories. Her look is un-groomed and trashy, but essentially sexy; and it ironically represents a heightened self consciousness in young women.

Facebook Forges new Fashion Etiquette

This self-consciousness has been fostered by social networking sites, which have given rise to deep rooted aesthetic sensitivities. The fact that every important and unimportant social occasion (and outfit) is now being snapped by peers and published online, has made a pristine heels-and-hairspray style impractical: not only is it high maintenance, it looks high maintenance: it smacks of effort.

Girls may trawl through online albums unscrupulously “untagging” less-than-perfect photos of themselves, but crucially, one has to appear not to care. That much scrutinized “profile picture” has to be sexy, but also nonchalant, hence why laddered tights, disheveled hair and distressed denim have usurped the throne of high glamour, which would not convey that much coveted carelessness and brash sensuality.

A potent antidote to the new womanly allure came with “nu-rave”, a frivolous clubbing craze which referenced ‘90s dance music, early ‘90s dance/grunge wear, and ‘80s spandex. The revival of the acid-house yellow smiley, Ray-Ban shades and a neon palette, was antithetical to classic feminine glamour. Think of House of Holland’s slogan tees, styled as slouchy dresses on exciting new models like AgynessDeyn, who screamed and pouted their way into the public eye.

Young women were now uploading photos of themselves “raving” in lurid colours and sweating behind sunglasses. Scarlett Johansson was out, M.I.A. was in. It was an incendiary assault on old style femininity.

Designers Follow Suit on the Catwalk

Christopher Kane seized this new defiance and galvanized bodycon in his S/S 07 collection. He married the neon palette of nu-rave with lace trimming, and created eye-wateringly tight mini dresses à la AzzedineAlaia and Mario Schwab. The waist was still with us, but Kane resurrected an ‘80s silhouette by drawing the eye to the curves and muscularity of the whole body.

The trend was exciting because it was elitist: it is cruelly satisfying to wear a dress in which one’s mother would look like a pinched sausage. The bodycon revival undercut many vintage fit-and-flare style rules, it popped with high octane sensuality and looked fabulous on camera.

This new daring mood in fashion was appealing because it facilitated the crafting of quasi-fictional personas through photographs online. Young women who wanted to be perceived as leading exciting or risqué lives now had a wardrobe to support them. Take Kane’s subversive A/W 07-08 leather creations, Gareth Pugh’s nightmarish gothic fantasies of S/S 08, or Burberry’s A/W 07-08 collection, which took classic vintage shapes such as trench coats and over-the-elbow gloves, and blasted them with heavy rock and fetish influences: a black and petrol blue palette, oil-slick thigh-high boots, studded leather and stripper heels.

In last year, Balmain’s punk-inspired collection of boy-blazers, skinny red trousers and ankle boots, was successful for its androgyny and anarchic attitude, and House of Holland’s thermochromatic wear, (great for drawing to attention to a hot crotch), was packaged with Alice Dellal-ish dark sexuality, and a nostalgia for the euphoric apathy of the nineties youth culture.

The influence of the ‘40s and ‘50s is still latent, but the emphasis has shifted to rockabilly tartans, Buddy Holly glasses and teddy boy tailoring. The latter half of this decade has ravaged the classic feminine formula, the new womanly allure has been sexed up, sucked in, studded and masculinised, to suit the needs of a “do you think I care?” generation of self consciousfashionistas.

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