A bit of context here first: let’s push to the side the ludicrously excitable coverage about Kate Middleton and the obvious outlier that is Meghan Markle. The royal family is, when we get down to brass tacks, a bunch of sloanes. Now, fashion, by its very nature, is all about changing with the times and reflecting the zeitgeist and being modern. But sloanes, by their very nature, are all about looking and behaving exactly the same as they would have done in 1983: they wear unflattering dresses, date men called Tobes, are friends only with their classmates from prep school, drink overpriced cocktails in Fulham and think that going to Peter Jones is a hoot. For all these reasons and many more, one does not turn to, say, Princess Beatrice, or Sophie-the-one-that’s-married-to-Edward, or anyone else with the surname of Windsor for fashion moments. It’s like asking a camel to please step through the eye of this needle. It’s just not fair on the camel. Or the needle.
But then this weekend someone called Gabriella Windsor got married and the fashion magazines got very excited. Not over Gabriella’s dress, which was fine, but over the outfit worn by her guest Amelia Windsor (feel free to use diagrams to keep up). “Lady Amelia Windsor is our inspiration for wedding-guest dressing,” cooed Harper’s Bazaar, while Elle decreed that her dress “ticks all the trend boxes”. Does it indeed? And on a Windsor, you say? Please, describe it, Elle: “This linen dress has a sweetheart neckline, voluminous sleeves and an adorable floral print.” Riiiight. So, just so we got this straight, an oversized linen dress with big flappy sleeves that Sarah Ferguson would have rejected in her day as “perhaps a bit sloaney” now “ticks all the trend boxes”? Have I taken a ride in a Delorean or what?
What we are witnessing here, folks, is the backlash against bodycon dressing. For the past two or so years, going out looking as if you’re wearing a full-body bandage has been the uniform for modern young female style, thanks to the Kardashians, who have yet to start a trend that looks good on anyone. This became not just a victim of its own success, but overly associated with cheap knock-offs by ubiquitous brands such as boohoo.com, Quiz Clothing and PrettyLittleThing. And so, we see, once again, the natural life-cycle of a trend, as something that was once edgy starts to look just a bit downmarket. So hold up that Lycra minidress you bought for £15 from Asos.com as the sun sets and sing with me as one, people: it’s the circle of life! The cirrrrrrrcle of liiiiife!
Fashion is not known for its sense of moderation, or common sense, so it’s inevitable that the reaction against bodycon would be an overcorrection, which means sack dresses. Call it Laura Ashley chic, prairie dress style or the return of the tent dress, but what we are really talking about is women wearing a load of old curtains.
Now look, I utterly loathed the bodycon trend. But there is something pretty hilarious about the reaction against them, which has gone so far that a royal sloane wearing a textbook example of a sloaney dress is now deemed the dernier cri in fashion. I mean, I can’t bear the Kardashians, but if the choice on the menu is between the Kardashians and 1980s Sloane Square then I’d like to speak to the chef, please.
And we haven’t even reached rock bottom, folks. Probably the label most associated with the prairie dress look is the New York brand Batsheva, designed by Batsheva Hay, which sells oddly childlike dresses for adults – or, as the website puts it, “plays with American styles of feminine dress, from Victorian to pioneer, from housewife to hippy”. Truly, nothing more fashion forward than taking inspo from a Victorian housewife! This week, on Instagram, Hay posted a photo of some Amish women with the caption: “Winning street style”, which felt like a joke but also, you know, not. Because if 19th-century dresses are held up as a modern fashion statement then why not the Amish? Why not nun’s habits? Why not go full Gilead? Let’s just take all explicitly anti-feminism clothes, call it punk and Instagram ourselves while the world burns. That’s fashion, folks!