Trend: Flatforms is a new portmanteau for a very old idea, platform shoes that place the foot on a flat surface, distinct from platform shoes with elevated heels. This may be the case of a trend ‘emerging’ simply because someone came up with a spiffy new name for it. The identity of whoever coined the term is unknown, it seems to have entered the lexicon following the Spring 2011 collections.
Where it came from: As old as mud, many cultures around the world have carved wooden clogs to keep their feet off the dirt, from the pattens of medieval Europe to the geta of Japan. Flat platform shoes pre-date platform heels by a long shot. Actors in ancient Greece used platform shoes called korthorni to indicate who played the leading roles. Women also wore cloven platforms, sometimes of great height, which were more for sitting than standing. There are several representations of Aphrodite wearing such sandals.
In the Ottoman empire, very tall platform sandals called qabaqib, beautifully inlaid with pearl, were worn by women in public bathhouses to keep their feet off of the hot, wet floor. It is thought that trend for orientalism initiated the fashion for chopines in southern Europe in the 1500s. Styles of chopines varied across Europe - the abundance of cork in Spain lent itself to very visible, cylindrically soled shoes worn with shorter skirts. Meanwhile in Venice, courtesans wore stilt-like apparatus under longer skirts to create exaggerated proportions. Chopines worn by wealthy women were elaborate little pedestals meant to emphasize conspicuous inactivity more than height.
The flat platform form fell out of fashion in the west, but rose in the east. The 18th Century was the era of the classical geisha in Japan, where young geishas in training would wear a solid, block-like form of the geta called okobo. In the 19th century China, Manchu women wore platforms with teeteringly tiny footprints, some think as a more practical version to the fashion for bound feet among Han women. During the Qing dynasty, Empress Cixi wore bejewelled, platforms along with her long, precious nail guards.
Platforms clumped their way back west during the Second World War, as women’s fashions became more vertical. On the menswear front, the thick-crepe soled, suede "brothel creeper" was created, worn as a casual shoe by Western soldiors in the African desert, nicknamed for a popular pastime. Post-war in England, brothel creepers became the uniform shoe of the Teddy Boy subculture. In the 1970s, Malcolm McLaren merchandised youthful rebellion and sold it back to the kids. Much ted-on-punk violence has resulted due to shoes. It has remained a subcultural staple for the current generation of hipsters.
In 1971, Manolo Blahnik designed a sandal with a sole that resembled a brick for Kansai Yamamoto (source). Bringing the eastern aesthetic west using bold modern shapes, Yamamoto outfitted Ziggy Stardust and the pop culture flatforms were made iconic, and then mainstreamed. The 1970s clogged up.
Platforms dipped out of fashion only briefly in the 1980s before the current trend cycle began with designer (and former McLaren partner) Vivienne Westwood creating the Rocking Horse shoe in 1987. Subsequently, pop music made the platform trainer ubiquitous with the Spice Girls. Since then high-fashion platform heels have only become more elaborate, sculptural, cantilevered and bizarre. Flatforms, meanwhile, flicker in and out of consciousness.
2011 was the year of the flatform, if only in the fashion media. Designers did a mashup of various influences - Prada did creepers, Westwood did espadrilles, Derek Lam did punked up pumps.
When it works: Flatforms are an aggressively conspicuous fashion shoe. As such, they’re a daring buy for those who enjoy offending those with more classical sensibilities. It makes sense that a directional brand like Prada is leading the flatform movement this season, with a monstrous post-modern mashup of okobo, chopine, and Baby Spice.
When it’s wack: flatforms will always have a whiff of Orientalism, prostitution, objectification, violent youth and dirty streets… they’re politically as well as proportionally incorrect, but maybe that’s the point.
How it will end: they’re still ascendant, being worn in various forms by fashion freaks like Elle Fanning, yet aren’t yet mainstream. I think the shapes of the soles will continue to get more abstract and postmodern for a few more years before they become utterly unwieldy.
2:34 am • 21 November 2012 • 4 notes
Trend: Half-tuck. This refers to the styling technique of partially tucking a shirt into the waistband of a pair of trousers or a skirt. The shirt may be only tucked at the front, perhaps to display a belt buckle. A partially buttoned dress shirt might be tucked in on one side only. There are a few other quirkier variations that are seen less often - tucking in at the back only, or tucking only one half of a collar into a jumper.
Where it came from: Partially tucked shirts are as perennial as carelessly dressed men. There is very little historical precedence for the deliberate half-tuck, though. Tucking or untucking has centuries of political significance - untucked smocks for the peasantry, exposed belts (and weapons) for the ruling class. The earliest instance of an intentional half-tuck I could find was Morrissey of The Smiths in the 1980s. (Hat tip Catherine!) While some evidence is available for Mick Jagger being the earliest originator, for him it seems to be more of an accidental or gestural tic rather than a deliberate affectation.
Class-mobile hot rockers certainly influenced the way their fans dressed but the half-tuck didn’t hit the runway until 1991, for Calvin Klein Jeans at the height of its sexually suggestive phase. It didn’t become a trendy menswear phenomenon worthy of a New York Times article until 2004, when David Beckham did the undone look best. The look for men is about drawing attention to anatomy.
The undisputed queen of the current half-tuck cycle is stylist Emmanuelle Alt, whose boyish profile rose, along with the popularity of the half-tuck for women, when she became editor of Vogue Paris in 2011.
When it works: I first time remember registering this styling trick was on Balmain menswear Spring 2012. My instant thought was - I could do that! I could never afford a Balmain shirt, but I could surely stick half of my thrift-store shirt into my jeans. I did, and instantly felt cooler, for free. That’s my kind of quick fashion hit.
When it’s wack: The half-tuck is a total contradiction, the ultimate in plausible deniability. The idea is to look put-together and undone at the same time, artfully dishevelled. Successfully pulling off this illusion takes conscious thought, and yet if the contrivance is visible the look fails. The key to this is an insouciant attitude; this look should never be attempted by the sincere.
How it will end: With reluctance, I’ve already started either totally tucking or untucking my shirts, just because it is beginning to feel a bit try-hard to half-tuck. When a trend is as simple as sticking your hand down your jeans, it’s easy-come, easy-go.
6:20 pm • 25 September 2012
Trend: Mullet skirts. This is the affectionate or disparaging term for “high-low” hemlines which are currently dominating the high street. (In case you’re wondering, the etymology of the mullet is discussed here.)
Where it came from: High-low didn’t appear until hemlines rose in the 1920s, for obvious reasons. In some cases, very formal dresses still had trains, but also had the fashionable shorter length in the front. Variegated hemlines of various types - asymmetrical, handkerchief, zig-zag, etcetera - were common. One theory I remember reading once (though I can’t find an online reference) was that because hemlines were rising and falling unpredictably from one season to the next, women would adopt uneven hemlines to hedge their bets. Perhaps a more straight-forward explanation was the popularity of dancing during the jazz age - swags and fishtails wiggle fantastically during a foxtrot or a Charleston. The high-low hem in particular is associated with the Argentine Tango craze, and is often worn by tango dancers to this day.
The high-low hem made a reappearance in the 1950s and 60s, as it was favoured by the Spanish-born master couturier Cristobal Balenciaga, most famously in his conical, modern version of the wedding dress in 1967. Balenciaga’s designs reference in an abstract way the lavish bustled silhouettes that his female family members wore during his childhood, while at the same time elaborating on the high front hip of Dior’s New Look. It’s sheer speculation, though, as to why high-low and front-back contrasts are such a signature of his.
In 2009, Karl Lagerfeld presented a high-low silhouette for Chanel Couture and this appears to be the genesis of its current cycle of popularity. Style blogger Rumi Neely rocked them in 2010 and the look is now indelibly associated with her and her many imitators.
When it works: High-low looks fierce with a long stride and adds a satisfying sense of movement to those Tommy Ton landscape street style shots. It’s perfect for dancing and a cheap polyester knock-off is pretty appropriate for festival wear.
When it’s wack: This trend was super-saturated this summer, and the bad news for those of us with short attention spans is that it’s not even close to being over. I have a friend who works as a pattern-maker at a high street chain and she tells me:
I was talking with the head skirt designer at work just last week and she was explaining how she was feeling the pressure to come up with more mullet skirt ideas for next season. Mullets were the best selling skirts last summer, last winter, this sumer and they are forecasting this winter also. There are only so many variations on the mullet one can come up with so I do feel sorry for the designers. In just the last month I’ve drafted about 15 patterns for high low variations (cross over at the front, pleats, gathers, frills etc etc etc) Our next drop of mullets are going to be more of an asymmetrical thing. So short over the left but long over the right. Or a traditional mullet rotated to the side if you will…
How it will end: There’s a famous economic theory that hemlines go up in good times and down in bad times. George Taylor, who came up with the “Hemline Index” in 1926, thought it had something to do with conspicuous consumption of stockings, which were expensive and easily damaged. We’re no longer in the era of pricey hosiery, nor are we measuring our hems in lockstep with the seasons, so this indicator is probably specious now. Still, it is amusing (or depressing) to think that the uneven hem is a symptom of uncertain times. If that follows, the high-low hem will go the way of the mullet when the economy starts making sense again.
8:01 pm • 13 September 2012 • 3 notes
Trend: Neon. The more technically accurate term for this trend is daylight fluorescence - these are colours that under regular white light appear to have a luminous quality. Fluorescence refers to the property of a substance that makes invisible UV light visible, thus creating a glowing effect. But perhaps since fluorescent is tricky to spell, fashion editors prefer the word neon.
Where it came from: Daylight fluorescence is amazing - a truly modern form of colour. In the 1930s, Robert Switzer discovered naturally occurring fluorescent compounds that could be used to create paint. Fluorescence was adapted for military use during WW2. After the war, Switzer and his brother established a company called Day-Glo, providing high-visibility materials for industrial safety and inks for commercial use. Day-Glo also used fluorescent technology to create consumer paint products that were used by kids… and Andy Warhol. Switzer is remembered for being a very safety and environmentally conscious industrialist. Considering the original glow-in-the-dark consumer product was radium, and the horrific story of the Radium Girls (which includes a deadly manicure anecdote), this is understandable.
When fluorescent ink came into use in the 1950s, graphic designers immediately understood that they could use it to establish visual hierarchy in packaging and advertising. In the 1960s and 1970s, fluorescent ink was lavishly applied for psychedelic effects. That counterculture palette, ironically and iconically, also announced the anti-hippie backlash on the cover of Never Mind the Bollocks… here’s the Sex Pistols. Punk morphed into New Wave and kept the loud graphics. It was New Wave album art which inspired the MTV aesthetic.
It wasn’t until the late 1980s that fashion began to successfully incorporate these cutting-edge colours beyond plastic accessories and screen prints, and the reason why it took so long is technological - dying fabrics fluorescent is difficult, even to this day, especially for cotton. Fluorescents in clothing weren’t driven by fashion media, but by pop culture. Hit TV show Miami Vice, based on the two-word concept “MTV Cops” was incredibly influential in establishing a fashion aesthetic that was made for colour television. Footwear brand LA Gear cashed in on the trend. But it was Will Smith in head-to-toe highlighter as the Fresh Prince that exemplifies the hyperactive spectrum of early 1990s.
Grunge turned the lights out for mainstream fluorescents, and when LA Gear filed for bankruptcy, rather than destroying their inventory they dumped it. Fluorescents were discounted, stuck with fluorescent sale stickers under fluorescent lamps. Flourescents went underground… only coming out at night, embraced by party people.
It was rave culture that inspired designers like Jeremy Scott, who introduced the acidic aesthetic to high fashion at the turn of the century. But it took another decade before the early 1990s was ripe enough to be considered nostalgic, so fluorescents could go mainstream again.
When it works: A judiciously chosen “pop of colour” is an effective visual trick for grabbing attention - that’s just good PR. Over the past few years, accessory brands like Zatchels, high street retailers like American Apparel, fashion designers like Christoper Kane, and street style photographers like Scott Schumann, have all savvily employed the use of fluorescents to raise their profile.
When it’s wack: The problem is… everyone noticed. And now, everyone else is using this this tactic too. There’s a peculiar paradox about high-visibility garments - when they become common, they have the exact opposite effect that they’re supposed to.
How it will end: Much like a glowstick, fluorescents shine for only a brief time until they turn into trash. However, they will definitely be back - probably when some smart scientist out there figures out how to effectively dye cotton fluorescent. Then, neon will become so much more ubiquitous, you’ll long for the dull days of 2012.
7:53 pm • 10 September 2012
Trend: Nail art. This term describes any type of manicure that is more elaborate than just a swipe of one nail polish. It can be as simple as layering one nail polish over another, or as complex as three-dimensional, multi-media collage. Essentially, it’s the application of time, thought, and technique that elevates fingernails into ‘art’.
Where it came from: Colouring nails has been a part of human history for thousands of years, across many cultures, but the first instance of figurative nail art is thought to be by the Incas in the 15th century. More recently, royalty of the decadent Qing dynasty in China grew their nails very long and wore decorative jewelled nail guards to emphasize their leisured lifestyle. Creative, unconventional manicures have been recorded since nail polish was introduced in 1917. In the 1980s, star athlete Florence Griffith Joyner's nail art was famous - she said she used it to emphasize her femininity. There is an unexamined anecdotal modern phenomenon of elaborate nail art worn by African American and East Asian women, though frustrating Google searches on the topic reveal very little. It seems to be related to marginalized female entrepreneurship. In the only decent post I found, rather than exploring the racial aspect of the history, Robin Givhan only offers an explanation for why it is not discussed. I hope some smart young journalist out there writes a thoughtful article about this soon. (UPDATE: Britticisms has written a wonderful post about her personal experiences with nail art growing up in Chicago in the 1990s.)
When it works: Great nail art truly lives up to the name - there are manicures that are postmodern, conceptual, lavish, technically impressive. Perhaps nail art’s greatest virtue is that it is one of those rare little luxuries that is accessible to everyone. No matter how bad life gets, anyone can have a bit of glamour at their fingertips.
When it’s wack: Sub-trends in nail art are driven by novelty and technology. So when a new gimmick in nail polish is released - like Crackle Nail Polish was in the summer of 2011, it fads and fades before it even gets a chance to dry. If you’re not willing to do the necessary upkeep to stay on top of this type of high-rotation trend cycle, you might as well not bother dipping your chipped fingernails in.
How it will end: The current obsession with nail art is fuelled by technology of a different kind - social media. The camaraderie of the nail salon has become an international grass-roots gab session which even a naked nail type like myself can appreciate for all the enthusiasm and creativity on display. I doubt this trend will end anytime soon - it’s community-driven and the big brands are very late to the party. Now that the fashion industry is getting into the game, the faddishness of specific techniques do seem to have shorter and shorter life cycles. It’s not hard to imagine a future where a novel nail art innovation receives wholehearted praise and all-round condemnation within a single day, if not a single hour.
6:13 pm • 7 September 2012 • 4 notes
Trend: Topknots. This term is used when someone with long hair pulls it all into a bun on the top of their head. Sometimes it’s messy, sometimes it’s smooth and slick, sometimes it’s achieved using backcombing, sometimes it’s even made with an old sock. Because it is so far up on the head, often it needs a few pins at the back of the head to pull in shorter strands from the nape of the neck.
Where it came from: The topknot enjoyed a brief moment at the, er, top, in the 1960s. This glorious, polished and pearled example on actress Tippi Hedron was probably achieved using false hair, common at the time of towering dream-of-Jeannie hair fantasies. Odango, the Japanese version of the high bun, worn by anime characters like Sailor Moon, has likely influenced kids who watched cartoons in the 1990s. (Hat tip Ginevra!) In more realistic recent history, fashion blogging’s fairy godmother Susie Bubble has worn it as a go-to hairstyle ever since her early WAYWT posts on The Fashion Spot. The popularity of her pioneering blog Style Bubble established in 2006 no doubt has something to do with its current ubiquity.
When it works: The topknot is a supremely practical hairstyle for ladies with long locks, especially when you don’t want to deal with hair in hot weather. A topknot takes everything well out of the way and also doesn’t interfere with relaxation - you can lean back on a deck chair without a problem. It looks divine on ballerinas, and of course it’s a Susie signature - she owns it.
When it’s wack: There’s something undeniably lazy about this hairstyle which makes it a little too accessible, and when it’s too messy, rather than looking ‘beachy’ it can look quite dishevelled, as if you just haven’t bothered to wash your hair. It also has the style-blogging backlash working against it. The home base of style blog hate is even named after the hairstyle’s nickname, Shamepuff. If you wear it in 2012 you risk connoting that you are your own online vanity project.
How it will end: At the recent IFB Conference in New York there were countless tweets commenting about how half the room was wearing topknots. If that isn’t the death-knell for a trend, I don’t know what is. It’s not uncommon in East London this summer to see topknots tipping forward over foreheads. When a trend reaches the edges of physical probability, its days are clearly numbered. It will definitively end when the topknot becomes the faceknot.
3:47 pm • 6 September 2012 • 1 note