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A runway of nostalgia: discussing fashions from the past

ByAlice Florence

Nov 1, 2016

On the eve of Alexa Chung’s latest collaboration with M&S, the trend of designers looking to the past for inspiration is taking up space everywhere, from the pages of fashion magazines to the wardrobes of students.

Whether it’s Gucci dipping into their design archive for the catwalk, or the rise of velvet on the high street, nostalgia is dictating many of the styles we’re all wearing. Pastiche is in – and no, I’m not taking about something they make on week nine of the Bake Off.

The covetable designs in Chung’s collection combine the vintage cuts of M&S’ archive with modern materials and metallics, creating a perfect union of contemporary and classic. Yet there are some trends currently in the shops that should certainly be left in the past. Here are my top five:

Fur Coats

Designers such as Saint Laurent have taken to draping celebrities like Rihanna and the Kardashians in ostentatious dead animal hides, and I’m questioning which facet of society approved this. This trend evokes an era of high glamour, yet it would have been unanimously deplored at the height of Peta’s ‘I’d Rather Go Naked’ campaign a decade ago. It hints at a moral ambivalence that has been creeping into the fashion industry in recent years; as an art form it parodies social narratives, yet refuses to engage in larger political issues. The industry needs to take a good look in the mirror, and in the meantime, we can support designers like Stella McCartney who do not use fur in their collections. 

90s’ Trainers

The fact that women can now wear a pair of Stan Smiths in many artsy London offices without judgement should be applauded, but I don’t understand why this is still a trend. At best, you look like you once glanced at a Pinterest street-style board circa 2013. At worst, you might find yourself standing in a queue at Starbucks behind a line of girls who match both your shoes and your Pumpkin Spice Latte. Time to rethink.

Tip: For the same amount of money as a pair of trendy Adidas trainers, you can invest in the Converse x Comme des Garçons collaboration *heart flutters*.

Badges/Patches on Denim

In the time period this trend is taken from – the social unrest of the 60s to the early 80s – many of these patches had overt or underlying political messages. From the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to showing support for marijuana, it’s hard not to feel disheartened when we see the trend being brought back using emojis and slogans like “You Da S**t”. Maybe I’m looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses – now that’s a trend I want to come back.

Embroidered Bomber Jackets

A piece of Americana we’ve adopted from the 1950s, these jackets came back a little too early to be blamed on ‘Pink Lady’ Halloween costumes. Typically adorned with embroidered cranes and lotus flowers, the trend is erring on the uncomfortable side of ‘orientalism’. For an interesting documentary about the fetishisation of art from China in western fashion, I highly recommend The First Monday in May (2016) from Magnolia Pictures.

If, however, the jackets have been sewn in a sweatshop in China, there is an argument to be made about authenticity. Regardless, the juxtaposition of the bomber jacket shape and the intricate embellishment falls flat. This fashion item has no lasting power.

Corsets (sorry, ‘waist-trainers’)

I am thrilled that the Victoriana trend has come back into style. Finally, the catwalks are filled with the high-collared dresses and blouses that were made for my giraffe neck. Yet a more worrying throwback to a time before women had the vote is the rise of the ‘waist-trainer’. I still don’t own an underwired bra, so perhaps I’m the wrong person to comment on this issue. However, a recent visit to a new fashion exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland, which contains an insightful look at the history behind women’s undergarments, makes it hard not to think we’re regressing in this area. For the sake of our sanity and internal organs, let’s banish corset-wearing back two centuries.

Archive by Alexa Chung x M&S is released today, 1 November. Race you there.



[Image: Fashionisaparty @ Flickr]

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