Lately I have been thinking a lot about Picnic at Hanging Rock, the moody Australian movie from the 1970s about a group of schoolgirls who disappeared in 1900. The plot is mysterious and scary, but the costumes are the big thing in my head – lots of beautiful girls in equally beautiful dresses from the turn of the century. White lace and puffy sleeves abound... I was in junior school when this movie came out, and it was all SUCH a look. Gunne Sax and Laura Ashley were high on my wishlist around that time. Those lines were heavily inspired by late 19th and early 20th century fashion, so it was a bit costumey, but filtered through the free love lens of the 70s. The romantic in me loved it.
It's 2019, but I am beginning to think we are right back there, with so many new brands pushing the buttons in our romantic minds. Dôen and Batsheva come to mind, but there are dozens of others in vogue right now. I don't think I will ever tire of this look. Whatever the thread in my mind – The Nutcracker, A Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables, or even Felicity, the colonial American Girl doll – it evokes a vision of a pretty girl from childhood that we longed to look like.
For my first middle-school dance, I sewed a dress for myself that I had envisioned after seeing the Franco Zeffirelli-directed Romeo and Juliet. At age 13, I did not yet have the bosom to fill out the square neckline as beautifully as Olivia Hussey had, so it was slightly disappointing to wear. I added a gold locket, thinking it just the right romantic touch. Now that I look at the photo, the Butterick (or was it Simplicity?) pattern that I used was WAY too high in the neckline to give off anything but a childlike vibe, so the odds were stacked against me to begin with. But that's kind of a metaphor for puberty, right?
My oldest daughter has a thing for tops and dresses that evoke this same historical-romance feeling – square neck, empire waist, puffed sleeves – so much so that her wedding dress was a bit like that as well. (And, for the record, with the help of my amazing design team, my 1974 mistake wasn't repeated, and hers had a low enough neckline that she looked old enough to wed!) Recently she wore something in the same spirit to the office, and Sid asked her if she was ready for her date with Shrek. We all laughed and laughed because he was spot on.
Both Ulla Johnson and Isabel Marant (which we carry in the Atlanta and DC shops) execute this look so, so well. Their versions tend to have lots of beautiful lace and other fanciful trim. When my own line goes in this direction, I try to make it a bit more streamlined, which is a bit more 'me' today than back in my younger, home-sewing days, when I was still experimenting. And as I just celebrated my 58th birthday, I am a little sensitive when it comes to the more elaborate pieces. I will try on an amazing, lacy dream of a shirt and see Granny Clampett looking back at me in the mirror. NOT what I am going for. So I let the younger girls pull that off – I love that they are bold enough to laugh if they look a little sister-wife – and know that for me, what works best now is a crisper, simpler take on romance.
Right now, we have several shirts and tunics with big, rounded sleeves that feel romantic in my mind even without lace trim or fancy detailing. The crisp white poplin on this one makes the look more modern and less costumey. The collar is split and not squared, but I can still imagine myself at the end of a long table in a drafty castle, about to nibble on a roasted pig with an apple in its mouth. Any fashion historians are probably cringing right now, as I am mixing up all of my time periods... they all run together in my head! Seriously, though, any white shirt is indispensable. And this is exactly the time of year when you need a pick-me-up, one last summer buy that you know you'll wear year-round. Tuck it into a simple long skirt with espadrilles now, and wear it with jeans and boots later in the fall and winter.
The Anaya popover is another fantastic one. I have lost count of how many times we have restocked it, so clearly many of you agree! It has a higher collar and those puffed sleeves that I love, but in a less overtly feminine way, perhaps because the fullness is allover, not concentrated in the sleeves. In my head it has a bit of a Cossack feel. My most tomboy daughter #3 wears it constantly and looks fantastic. And all of the Anna tops are so easy and great – they have that Juliet vibe I was going for, but they can also go off-shoulder when it's warm outside for a sultrier, more Brigitte Bardot feel. The smocking-neck Cecilia one conjures up more princesses in the castle, but they are being attended to before a bath or bedtime. Who wouldn't want to wear a pretty nightgown in the daytime? And, if you can believe it, there is even one more silhouette, the Amelie – simple everywhere but the ruffled shoulder. This one looks good on nearly everyone. Whether you're full, or flat, or you'd just rather not draw attention to your chest either way, it works. I told you we were having a moment!
I just finished reading The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud, and there was a subplot in which a main character was writing a book about how the way that we dress our children reflects some larger truth about ourselves. It was too convoluted for my summer-reading-focused head, so I sped past those passages – and, in fact, the character didn't have it quite figured out, either, and had spent all of her advance money trying to do so! In a similar vein, I don't know why we all want to look like little princesses these days, and I'm not sure it matters. But pretty is something we all want to feel, and this kind of femininity will always have a place in my imagination AND my closet. Especially right now.
last week in DC in a sample of the Mandarin Paulina Shirt