The skirt, and its shape, back in play this season
RUTH LA FERLA
MIRANDA Berman thinks of herself as treading fairly close to fashion’s cutting edge.
“When everyone is wearing leggings, you’re automatically different if you wear a skirt,” she said. Her own outfit on any given day might incorporate a schoolgirl mini, which she wears with tights; a long jersey column; or a leather skirt, its hemline dipping just below the knee.
Lately Berman, 23, a writer’s assistant at MTV, has noticed her peers playing catchup, rediscovering a wardrobe staple that has languished in recent years, in short supply at retail and all but supplanted on city streets by dresses and skinny jeans.
“Fashionista’s had a craving for skirts,” she said, “even if they didn’t know it.” The sway of those early adopters has thrust skirts from fashion’s wings back to centre stage, the flared minis, knife-pleated midis, below-the-knee pencil shapes and Aline each representing, their partisans say, a lively way to recharge a wardrobe and give a vigorous kick-start to spring.
Skirts’ very multiplicity, emblematic of a fashion landscape in which no single style or trend prevails, is acting as catnip to consumers, who are combining skirts, long and short, slim and wide, plain and patterned, with pieces varying from tank tops to mannish shirts, from turtlenecks to blazers.
“The skirt has become the new hot toy for women to play with in fashion,” said Marshal Cohen, the chief analyst with the research firm NPD Group. For the first time in six years, he said, “consumers are thinking, If I’m going to update my wardrobe, I’ll put my money on a skirt.” Shoppers with deep pockets might gravitate to fresh-off-the-runway looks like a Celine black-and-white below-the-knee skirt with knife pleats; a Burberry style, draped and patterned like a scarf; or an eyesearing Mary Katrantzou garden-print mini.
There are more wallet-friendly alternatives.
“What works in skirts’ favour and makes them fun is that this is not strictly a luxury business,” said Catherine Moellering, executive vice president of the trend forecasting firm Tobe Report.
Budget-conscious shoppers might stray to novelty pieces like a Diane Von Furstenberg caution-yellow raffia mini ($265) or an Isabel Marant deliberately ravaged-looking stretch denim A-line ($445), both at Net-a- Porter; or, at Anthropolgie, a mosaic patterned A-line maxi ($98).
“Our selection is more diverse than it was a year ago,” said Lisa Axelson, the chief designer for the Ann Taylor stores, where skirts come in slender shapes, in colour-saturated A-lines and in pleated and lacy varieties.
It is a natural outgrowth of the infatuation with the dresses that dominated the market in recent years, Axelson said.
At Saks, reedy shapes and flared minis, and more vanguard looks like Marc Jacobs’ sports-inspired skirts embellished with a racing stripe, are projected best sellers.
Women like skirts for their versatility, said Colleen Sherin, the senior fashion director at Saks. Paired with T-shirts or jackets to make an unmatched suit, “They offer a way of mixing more casual and dressy pieces,” she said.
Saks is also keen on pencil skirts and buoyant dirndls that might have drifted intact from a Douglas Sirk twin-hankie melodrama, or for that matter, from the pages of Vogue, which as far back as February declared the skirt fashion’s latest heartthrob.
At Bloomingdale’s, there are already breakout hits: a cream quasi-sheer pleated skirt from Aqua ($125); a fluid gray jersey maxi from Splendid ($94); and an ink-blue drawstring-waist style from Marc by Marc Jacobs. Then there is a perky Nanette Lepore skirt, fanning out in acid-green sunburst pleats ($248).
“If you’re afraid of colour, add your favourite black sweater, and let the skirt tell the story,” said Stephanie Solomon, Bloomingdale’s fashion director.
Such an embarrassment of choices seems a lot to take in, bewildering even some pros.
“We spent so much time wondering which length or trend would dominate,” Solomon said. Would the maxi gain traction? Would it be a high waist or low, a pencil or an Aline?” Such questions, in retrospect, seem meaningless, she said. “The answer is yes, to all of the above.” That kind of fashion new-think renders in-and-out lists and the obsessive tracking of trends, if not obsolete, then at least out of touch. The notion of a single right length or shape, “is not an issue at all anymore,” Solomon said. “It’s not even a conversation.” Except perhaps among those who approach the season’s much-touted belowthe knee hemlines with caution, some women dismissing the look as matronly, a relic straight out of granny’s closet.
Addressing such reservations head-on, some merchants encourage shoppers to play with the latest lengths and proportions, combining shapes and colours like so many Lego blocks.
Ann Taylor has mapped out the possibilities online, suggesting in grid form various ways of wearing its skirts; J Crew invites visitors to put together their own looks, inspired by online combinations like a shirred maxi shown with a slinky cardigan and flat sandals, or a skinny paisley calflength skirt, striped pullover and anklestrap pumps.
Other retailers have sidestepped the issue of hemlines entirely, showing skirts in their designer departments in versions several inches shorter than what appeared on the runways, and stressing fit and versatility over length. A sweep through a dozen stores in New York City turned up plenty of skirts with elasticised waists and stretchy fabrics, many of them conceived and cut to accommodate a variety of figures. Shoppers chary of prints will be able to tame them with solid tops; those waffling over hemlines can choose from options as varied as the entrees on a deli takeout menu.
“My favourite new silhouette lately is longer in back, and shorter in front,” said Jeriana San Juan, a devotee of the flirtatious gauzy asymmetric looks she spied the other day while cruising through Zara and Bloomingdale’s.
San Juan, 30, a costume designer, tends to wear her own Helmut Lang with flats by day and spindly heels at night. Another of her current pets is a softly gathered peasant skirt that falls just below the knee, which she wears on occasion with cage-foot sandals or, alternately, with high-heeled lace-up boots.
She characterises her wardrobe as functional but romantic and finds herself increasingly drawn to patterns.
“They allow you to get creative, she said, thinking nothing of mating, say, outsize blossoms with Liberty-style micro-florals.
Such proliferating choices present a challenge that’s welcomed by Berman at MTV.
“You can’t throw on a skirt the way you do a dress,” she said. “You have to really think about putting together an outfit.” “When you get it right, it looks like you’ve made an effort, like you care about fashion,” she said. “Skirts are a statement for sure.”