IS DOWNRIGHT DOWDY BECOMING DE RIGUEUR?
Byline: ELISA ANNISS
NEW YORK — Why is ugly “Mum” fashion and even frumpier “haus frau” styling slipping into haute couture? Is it, quite simply, a backlash against glamour or is it a re-definition of the word in the way “grunge” was?
What is glamour, after all? There are those who say that, like fashion, it is forever changing and constantly being re-appraised. In retrospect, ugly-chic — such as high, plastic platform shoes in the ’70s — or sleek-chic — such as feminine ’30s and ’40s fashion — are both considered glamorous in different ways. It all has to do with changing sources of inspiration and changing times.
If one thing has remained consistent in the tumultuous world which is fashion, however, it is the designer’s passion for rummaging around thrift shops to sniff out new sources of inspiration. Original and definitely more quirky than inspiration derived from magazine pages, flea-market fashion has been much in evidence on the runways, and could even be credited with ushering in the retro renaissance. Whether it’s a ’40s-inspired dress by Norma Kamali or Anna Sui, a post-war-style wedge by DKNY or an interesting twist on a “Sabrina” ensemble, chances are the seed of the idea was germinated in a setting resembling the East Village or Haight-Ashbury. Sadly, nothing goes on forever. And if recent runway or shoe shows are any indicator, it appears the thrift shop is not the Aladdin’s Den it once was. Supplies of anything halfway decent, antique or vintage, have seemingly been exhausted. Yet designers insist on scraping the bottom of the metaphorical thrift barrel. They have worked their way through the glamour decades dominated by couture and class, and have struck an age of mass-market and mediocrity — the ’70s.
Fine Italian shoes have been swapped for cheap Woolworth plastic slippers and sandals. Vibrant colors have been washed away by grapefruit, gray, dirty blue and beige. And fine coat and dress sets have been replaced by crimplene pants and washed-out housecoats. Whether you call this burgeoning new look dowdy, suburban or trailer-park tacky, or dismiss it with the words “bad taste,” rest assured this anti-fashion statement has certainly not reached “grunge” proportions. Nor is it about to topple good taste and the current obsession with high-end status from its pedestal. However, the look is bubbling under the surface. And for those at fashion’s cutting-edge, the downright dowdy, cheap ‘n cheerful, matronly — anything reeking of bad taste — is being deemed “fresh and stylish.”
“Mum” first came to life in April ’95 and heralded a new conservatism. Skirt lengths hit the knee, heels were halved and legs returned to their natural flesh or sometimes tan color. “Mum” was kicked in the shins by her nouveau-rich sister for spring when names such as Prada, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Yves Saint Laurent were emblazoned on shoes. Yet, simultaneously, some shoe people chose to adhere to the alternative cheap ‘n cheerful ethos. DKNY sent models down the runway wearing beach slides, while Miu Miu models wore shoes resembling cheap Chinese imports.
Dowdyism could take hold even more for fall ’96. Judging by the recent FFANY show, “Mum” could even be pushed out of the way by her mother — “The Matron.” Colors coming through include the drab, such as gray and beige. Styles such as low-cut t-straps also appeared, as did wide spatula toes from companies such as Bettye Muller and Sam & Libby.
The ultimate icon of this new look could be the unlikely — the good old Queen Mother of England.