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Fashion prudes, our time has finally come. Skin is no longer in. Uptight has triumphed over tight. For years, we grinned and bore it around hot bods encased in barely-there wear. But this season, the trend has turned to puritan chic.
Rodarte’s Mulleavy sisters led the charge with their salt-of-the-earth Depression-era dresses accessorized with only a hair barrette. At Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs brought the temperature down to frigid with garbed-to-the-shin Edwardian ladies.
The hottest fall/winter 2012/2013 runways betray nary a knee, a bare shoulder or even the slightest hint of breast—heaving or otherwise. Any hint of sex is muffled in slouchy trousers,cowl-neck sweaters, sensible pantsuits and redoubtable car coats, the kind you throw on before racing off in the Pathfinder to pick up the kids from school.
The source of this modesty is likely Downton Abbey, whose influence was most pronounced in the aforementioned Louis Vuitton collection, where the girls were one part Eliza Doolittle and two parts Lady Mary Crawley.
“I feel that sensuality in women’s fashion design is more interesting than more obvious and explicit dressing, and I wanted to show modern audiences how stunning this era could be,” explains Susannah Buxton, Downton Abbey’s costume designer. “In the seduction scene in the first season, Mary wears a deep-red evening gown with shot silk organza across the shoulders. She is very aware of the effect she is having without the need to emphasize this in her costume.”
Two television seasons later, fashion has caught up with Lady Mary. But we aren’t so much wanting Poiret’s opera manteaux as Australian outback sheepskin coats or oversized duffles, as seen at Neil Barrett. Fashion typically overflows with flowery words like “fantasy” and “reverie,” but there is a frontierswoman practicality to fall’s wardrobe that makes the most fashion-forward of us look ready and dressed for rounding up cattle or, for the modern frontierswomen we have become, chairing a board meeting.
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Take Phoebe Philo, for example. The designer was eight months pregnant when she showed her super-edited fall/winter collection at Céline.
Her no-sex, no-frills wardrobe got straight to the point, making the mini bubble skirts at Roberto Cavalli and the hot pants and see-through Sicilian lace at Dolce & Gabbana look silly, even backward. Christopher Kane, who made his name a few years back with tight, thigh-high tube dresses, also catered to the new sobriety.
This season, he dropped his hemline to the knee and bulked up with cableknit turtleneck sweaters. And there was no leg at all at Prada: Everything was kept under wraps in pantsuits and coat dresses.
Not everyone embraced unsexy style this season. Stella McCartney showed flirty skater skirts, and Raf Simons’ final collection for Jil Sander was a Hitchcockian homage to gloriously repressed sexuality.
Still, Philo has thrown down a gauntlet that divides women, at least for now, into staid versus sexy, and, for once, sexy is losing out.
So, before you reach for that hot little Versace number, remember: Mumsy’s the word this season. If you’ve got it, don’t flaunt it.