All locked up and nowhere to go, British designers looked to the past and found a rich history to re-conceptualize into some beautiful pieces for the next season.
Royalty, for one, is an endless source of ideas: King Henry VIII, the monarch famous for his six marriages, was also apparently known for promoting underwear as outerwear. His daughter Queen Elizabeth I, and Queen Victoria, 300 years later, were also fashion favorites. The current queen, Elizabeth II, is emulated for her love of the countryside and animals, and her Balmoral castle in Scotland.
A more recent peg is Emma Peel, the spy played by Diana Rigg in the ’60s TV series The Avengers. Her sleek look spells both power and swinging party, two important elements that fashion will do well to channel as it looks toward a future of dressing up.
The Victorian era named after Queen Victoria (1837 to 1901) was characterized by fashion for a more sedentary lifestyle, thanks to the affluence created by the Industrial Revolution. A corseted bodice was paired with a dome skirt and sleeves that expanded into bell shapes.
The queen’s pouf-sleeved white wedding dress in 1840 inspired women to adopt the silhouette, as well as the color white for weddings. The sleeves would evolve into the pagoda and mutton shapes, variations of which turned up at Palmer Harding where they were ingeniously cut to seamlessly extend generous pleating from the chest to the arms, at Roksanda with joy-inducing hues, and at Bora Aksu with layers of femininity in lace and taffeta.
Ruffles originated in 15th-century Germany when soldiers slashed their sleeves to create a ruffled effect — a badge of honor after returning from the war. In the 16th century, it was adapted by royalty as a wide-pleated collar ruff, worn by Elizabeth I, and by the 1700s it was sewn to collars and sleeves. It persisted as ornamentation till the 20th century, used in the flapper style of the ’20s and hippie bohemian style of the ’70s.
Princess Diana’s fairytale wedding gown in the ’80s, recently revived in The Crown TV series, made designers go ruffle-crazy again — on trousers at 16 Arlington, skirts at Molly Goddard and in bold, sculptural shapes at JW Anderson.
Created to offer a layer of protection, it is not surprising that capes are back in fashion. The earliest image of a cape is a 1066 illustration of a soldier, followed by a 1300s depiction of a woman with a cape attached to the collar of her dress.
Eventually, they were used to signify rank or occupation with monks wearing them hooded and waist length and royalty wearing them in fur-trimmed silk or velvet, reaching the floor to protect them from the elements. A modern spin is achieved with clever cuts and tailoring and soft colors like those of Emilia Wickstead and Roksanda.
Queen Elizabeth II gives man’s best friend a royal face as she dotes on her beloved Corgis, owning at least one at any given time since 1933. The royal Corgis have been immortalized in many works, from paintings to statues, and even in the Golden Jubilee crown coin.
Just like the queen, Brits have found solace in bonding with their furry friends during quarantine, showing up in the collections where pets appeared as accessories in lieu of handbags at Art School and Preen and as images on skirts and tops at IA London.
Floral fabrics were used for garments in 12th-century China, first as embroidery and later printed on silk. The French had their own floral silk from the 15th century and the English created a spare-patterned version in the mid 18th century. From 1600 to 1800, floral chintz from India was popular until the English made their own in 1759.
Florals persisted through the Victorian era and the 20th century, appearing as tropical designs in the ’50s and in the vibrant “Flower Power” of the ’60s. To brighten up the current mood, designers like Duro Olowu, Roksanda and Simone Rocha have turned to this reliable perennial.
Inner as outer
Innerwear as outerwear started with the codpiece, a flap or pouch that covered men’s genitals, attached to the crotch of trousers, as seen in the 16th-century portrait of King Henry VIII. In the same century, Queen Catherine de Medici introduced the corset, which spawned a 300-plus year period of corseted fashion.
The corset was used mainly as innerwear until Vivienne Westwood used them as outer streetwear in her mid-’70s collections.
By 1990, inner became fashionable as outer when Jean Paul Gaultier appropriated a conical bra for Madonna’s outfit in her Blond Ambition tour in 1990. For FW21, Emilia Wickstead, Fashion East and Halpern have their glammed-up versions that take you from lockdown lounge to all-night dancing.