Revenge Dressing: Sartorial Flamboyance on the Rise

As seen in Fashion Roundtable.

It’s been historically proven that in turbulent times, we opt for escapism — in fashion this means extravagance and decadence. One of the most notable examples is Christian Dior’s debut haute-couture collection from the late 40s. After utilitarian attires and wartime austerity, Dior sold women a dream. By this time, many were used to a pragmatic form of dressing, but Dior’s A-line skirts, cinched-in waists and tight-fitting jackets with padded hips, captured not only a radical form of femininity but also the deliberate glamour of a by-gone era. It was nostalgic and far removed from what had been endured. It marked a fresh start.

In Elizabeth Semmelhack’s book, ‘Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe’, she demonstrates how the need to compensate for dismal times has played out in history time and time again through heel heights. They grew noticeably after events like the Great Depression, the 70’s oil crisis and the Great Recession which ended in 2009. Similarly, the Covid pandemic has been a deprivation of the senses. We’ve been contained to our homes, we’ve missed friends and family, art openings, and coffees in packed cafes. Fashion Weeks have been mostly virtual affairs and our shopping experiences have moved online. While companies continue to evolve to meet a new set of consumer needs, there is hope that we’ll emerge with a new steely determination and zest for life.

When things get tough, I like to imagine what Sex and the City’s character Carrie would wear in the same situation. After a difficult period in my life, I channelled my inner-Carrie and bought a pale-pink Shrimp’s coat camouflaged in nude illustrations — holding a finger up to how I was feeling perhaps. During the pandemic, I’ve continued to contemplate this. I have come to the decision that at some point she’d snap and go for her allocated daily walk in incredibly high heels, just because. Fashion is powerful, there isn’t another medium quite like it. It has the ability to transport us from the mundane, and enable us to feel confident, fearless, romantic – the list is endless.

Loungewear experienced a 322% increase in sales, after the first lockdown. But it’s occasionwear and flamboyant dress styles that are forecasted to rise exponentially. In fact, the State of Fashion 2021 Report suggests that categorically speaking, occasionwear will see the swiftest recovery. And as the pandemic tiers and restrictions stretch forward, we should look to fashion for relief — and for the dream-like glamour we not only need, but deserve.

It may come as no surprise then, that there was a resilient assuredness from the spring/summer 2021 couture catwalks last month. Which brought along with them a haute-energy and offered up a much-needed sense of hopefulness. Charles de Vilmorin presented utter ingenuity with his painstakingly hand-painted looks for his debut collection. As well as a mesmerising feast for the eyes with Matteo Garrone’s ‘Le Château du Tarot’ film for Dior. The make-up throughout the collections felt cinematic and bolder than usual — from opulent gold tones at Valentino to the bright-red lips at Schiaparelli and voluminous silhouettes at Viktor & Rolf. Amongst the designers there was a resounding ‘more is more’ and a new-found sanguineness for what lies ahead.

While our finances have taken a beating and clothes may not be on everyone’s minds right now, we should draw on the optimism that fashion can bring. What designers at the SS21 couture shows provided was a silver lining – that one day, not too far from now, we’ll be dressing up again. Practicality will need to stay central to our wardrobes a little longer, but by reaching for that silk scarf, red lipstick or those statement earrings, we can escape at least for a little while. Social, political and economic changes have always impacted how people dress — so after a year of depriving ourselves in more ways than one, I predict that sartorial flamboyance will move us forward to better times.