Just in case you need a recap – there is quite a lot going on in the news at the moment, so sometimes even the most significant stories can slip under the radar – there have been two major style events taking place simultaneously over the past week. One in Paris, where it is fashion week, and one in Cape Town, where the Duchess of Sussex is based during the royal tour, making for another kind of fashion week.
Here’s the thing: the key fashion news from each is the same. Your dress for next season? It’s your dress for this season. Your new look is clothes you already wear, and a style you already have. In the past week, Meghan has worn two dresses that she wore on last autumn’s visit to Tonga: a blue shirtdress by Veronica Beard, and a dark striped sundress by Martin Grant. Now, first things first: clearly it is ludicrous that a woman wearing a dress twice is in any way a news story. But it is. Meghan’s “recycling” of her wardrobe has sparked a hundred headlines this week. Along with her denim jacket and her cross-body handbag, the dresses seem to be part of a soft relaunch of the Sussexes as low-key and relatable, post the whole private jet thing. But they also make for a new kind of fashion statement from Meghan: that her way of being a style icon doesn’t need to depend on an endless display of new clothes.
In Paris, fashion designers made the same point, in a slightly different way. Natacha Ramsay-Levi at Chloé and Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen were both at pains to point out the looks on their catwalk this season that were tweaked versions of looks they had done before. Burton talked about “not throwing things away, of returning to pieces and working with them instead of always moving on so fast”. Ramsay-Levi said she wanted to make it clear that Chloé clothes are not intended to be disposable. And all over the Paris catwalks, everywhere from Celine to Valentino, and from Christian Dior to Isabel Marant, the new collections spoke for themselves by being very much in the same vein as what we have been wearing for the past few seasons.
I’m talking about a loose-ish dress that falls to below your knees, or just above your ankles. A kind of 70s Paris vibe. Not exactly bookish, but definitely a bit cultured. Possibly a bit flirty but in that borderline-grumpy French way, not in the giggly eyelash-fluttery way. A bit like how I imagine it would have been to dress as a “modern woman” in Saint Germain in the days when that just meant you bought your own red wine and cigarettes in Café de Flore, before it all got really complicated. (Yes, I do realise it wasn’t ever actually that simple, but just indulge me a moment in a little rose-tinted hindsight, thank you so much.) The look is glamorous, but via a trench coat and a bit of a heel and chunky gold jewellery, rather than scrappy sandals and diamonds.
A long loose dress is the one piece that almost every woman I know has added to her wardrobe in the past two years. The white and black polka-dot tiered Zara dress that went viral this summer is the poster girl for the look. Yours might be that one, or it might be a different one, but I bet you have got (at least) one. Next season’s dress looks a little different – or can be made to look a little different – because it has a bit more of a waist. Utilitarian shirt dresses are edging out the more out-of-office kaftan-styled vibe, so lots of next season’s dresses have a row of buttons running flush to the body down the front, which lends them shape. And there are belts, too, suddenly. Not the kind that are a strip of fabric to match the dress, but proper belts, the sort you have probably got in a shoebox somewhere even if you haven’t worn them for ages. At Alexander McQueen, loose white dresses were worn with wide, sturdy black belts. At Chloé, Celine and Chanel, the belts were metal chain belts, softly weighting the fabric close to the body rather than cinching it in. At Dior’s garden-themed show, floral dresses were softly waisted with braided and woven belts.
What else is changing? Boots are knee-length rather than ankle-length, and in black or snake print or gold, rather than white. The gold accent chain belt will be to the next year what the optic white ankle boot has been to the last year – that is, the outfit detail that datestamps you as Very Now. Gold is the new beige – at both Celine and Saint Laurent, some of the absolutely standout dresses of very desirable collections were in soft gold – and gold as an accent colour, whether in a pair of boots or a chain belt, a chunky necklace or a Lurex thread running through a silk blouse, has been a recurring theme of the clothes I have seen this week on the catwalk, in the audience, and in the street-style crowds outside the shows.
The coats that look right now are the coats that work over these dresses – loose and unstructured, like the black coat worn over a striped dress at Stella McCartney, or oversized blazers. For casual looks, jeans are on their way back, as are denim midiskirts. Jumpsuits are very much still a thing – see Meghan in a black one in Cape Town, and Gigi Hadid on the Isabel Marant catwalk. Culottes and longline shorts are definitely happening. (I am sceptical, to be honest. They looked very elegant at Valentino, but then Valentino can make anything look elegant.) White shirts and silk blouses are bankable for a good few more seasons. If you want to elevate things a notch or two, ditch the polite florals for bold neon, or a neckline plunging narrowly to your bottom rib, as at Valentino.
The new-look dress is, literally, everywhere. It’s in Paris, it’s in Cape Town – and it’s already in your wardrobe. Next season’s look? You’ve got this.
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