A coo of delight at the Roksanda SS18 show. A model, dressed in a bright buttercup yellow silk dress, seemingly floats down the runway. Her hemline grazes the ankles, the form is loose, curling from the body like smoke when she moves. The silhouette falls in a cascade of ruffles.
The look personifies the new “modest mood”; skirts with long hems, long sleeves and a covered-up aesthetic that suggests a “gentler” femininity. From the catwalk to the high street, the new sobriety is being felt across all the incoming collections and fashion buyers have been quick to respond. Natalie Kingham, buying director of MatchesFashion.com, says: “We have increased the buy on long and midi-style skirts and dresses as sales on site have risen by over 50 per cent year on year.”
How to trace the new allure of demure? It’s complicated. Some attribute the more covered-up aesthetic to a cultural and political climate in which women are re-evaluating the codes of femininity: what empowers, what protects, what provokes?
The trend goes hand in hand with the rise of “modest fashion” as an expression of faith among Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities (and some of luxury’s most affluent clients), which has done much to make the new lengths more mainstream. There are now hundreds of thousands of images with the hashtag #modestdressing on Instagram.
But the dress code is also confusing. There may be a new-found mood in fashion, but this is no Handmaid’s Tale. As much as the new designs are about concealing the body, so do they reveal. Says Kingham: “What is interesting is that while there has been a shift to modesty dressing for some time, which we adore, it can be sexy and demure.”
“The midi-length is the most game-changing shift to happen in hemlines over the past few seasons,” agrees Coco Chan, head of womenswear at Stylebop, the retail site that saw searches for the term midi rise 32 per cent in 2017, with a 25 per cent increase in sales of midi styles. “The best part is that it has unfolded quite organically and discretely. Not as some big pronouncement or must-have piece. It captures the spirit of the moment — it’s very much about empowerment — a type of rejection of the usual flash of skin for something more hidden and subversive.”
For SS18, designers have created looks that are both alluring and playful: exaggerated lengths, sheer fabrics, thigh-high slits, multiple layers and clear plastics dominated the runways. At Calvin Klein, designer Raf Simons offered midi dresses and pencil skirts in sheer fabric and limpid silhouettes to give the skirts a subtle appeal. Hermès revived 1950s scarf prints to create floor-length dresses that shrouded the body, while Marc Jacobs and Erdem paired full skirts with bow-high gloves.
For their SS18 collection, Justin Thornton and partner Thea Bregazzi of Preen were inspired by “this feeling of anarchy in the world” and drew on other periods of history that have been tough for women. Their puritan-inspired collection was an ode to Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter, with high-collar shirts embroidered with a red “A”, and models in bonnets. But dowdy this was not: a pale turquoise organza camisole dress that fell inches below the knee had tiers of ruffles, and the long skirts were offset with négligées and bare shoulders.
The real magic of the longer style is in its accessibility. Polish designer Magda Butrym started her namesake brand two years ago and has swiftly become a cult label thanks to her long voluminous silhouettes in vivid patterns and colours. “Our bestsellers are the mid-length dresses,” she says. “Women just love them! That is why, in my collections you can find dresses that are deconstructed, so they look more cool and modern.” Butrym plays with different proportions; her Sevilla asymmetric silk-crepe, midi dress (£1,325) has all the elements of a covered ball gown mixed with a cold-shoulder sleeve and miniskirt hemline.
For those unsure about a longer length, the Polish/Parisienne blogger Marta Cygan has a few styling tips: “It is about getting the right balance between volume and length. Style a long skirt or dress with a turtleneck or perfect white T-shirt and pair with sandals or flat shoes for a more modern look than heels.”
For work, try Lemaire, which offers a perfect wool-wrap skirt with handkerchief detailing (from €570), or Joseph, which offers a great cream silk Laurel skirt with kick flare (£595). There’s also fabulous versions at Victoria Beckham. The designer, who stopped wearing denim minis years ago, has made the length her own signature style — proof that even the most petite of people can work a longer look.
This article was originally published by the Financial Times.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017.