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Image / Fashion

Which Decade Do You Dress For?


by Marie Kelly
24th Dec 2017

If I could have chosen another era in which to live, it would have been the 1920s. It was a decade that artfully mixed androgyny and femininity. Drop-waisted dresses had simple, uncomplicated lines, but were beautifully embellished with sashes, bows, silk flowers, beads and rhinestones. Cute cloche hats concealed boyish Eton crops, and then there was the marvellously modern Marcel wave. Of course, I’m assuming I would have had wealth and position… It’s Lady Edith’s wardrobe I’m visualising myself wearing, not housemaid Anna’s. Or Evie Eliott’s, if anybody else remembers the wonderful BBC series The House of Eliott, which ran in the early 1990s.

This isn’t simply the Downton effect. My body shape suits the straight-cut silhouettes of the 1920s, and my aesthetic marries with the modesty of its high necklines and low hemlines. I enjoy feeling sexy without looking showy. I think most women have a decade they consider to be their own, sartorially speaking. Dita Von Teese has the minuscule waist and voluptuous boobs and bum to unapologetically embody 1950s VA VA Voom. For Alexa Chung, it’s the 1960s. Her foal-like limbs lend themselves perfectly to A-line mini skirts and shrunken-style sweaters. Sienna Miller will always be known for her modern take on the 1970s. She’s evolved far beyond the prairie dresses and pirate boots she pioneered in the early noughties to a look that’s more polished. But it’s her signature sexy dishevelment that keeps her personal style rooted in the decade of free love and flower power. A few months ago, the actress fittingly hosted a showing of Saturday Night Fever at a cinema in Notting Hill in London to which she wore a cute ditsy floral print jumpsuit and a loosely braided side plait – she’s mastered how to pay homage to a decade without descending into caricature.

Dita Von Teese

Ten years ago, if a retro thread ran through the new-season shows, it was given acres of magazine space as editors deciphered the meaning behind designers’ decision to delve deep into the fashion archive. Retro fashion is no longer a rarity on the runways. Designers are forever recycling the past. But it isn’t just designers who are nostalgia-obsessed these days. Which one of us hasn’t indulged in a #throwbackthursday post? Who didn’t revel in the line-up of 1990s supermodels at the AW17 Versace show? And who among us wasn’t absorbed by Netflix series Stranger Things in part because the boys involved in secret adventures and encounters with supernatural beings brought us right back to childhood viewings of Steven Spielberg’s iconic movies ET and The Goonies? There’s no denying the appetite that exists for pastiche right now, both on and off the catwalk. 

Of course, this is very good news for those of us who have already identified our sartorial alter ego. It makes each season’s collections so much less daunting too. Regardless of how stunning Saint Laurent’s ladies look in their super-short LBDs and super-shiny sequinned boots, I have neither the confidence nor the carriage to carry them off. The extravagant silhouettes and uncompromisingly luxe leathers bring out the puritan in me. Less is never more on me. Similarly, an exquisite Jenny Packham lace pencil skirt will never hug my hips the way it would have Marilyn Monroe’s. There is nothing of the 1950s sex siren about my unassuming frame.

If you haven’t identified the decade you’d like to dress for, there is any number to choose from in the AW17 and upcoming SS18 collections. How to style it so that you still look like you? Take one retro piece and mix it with modern separates. Of course, if you want to go down Dita Von Teese’s uncompromisingly retro route, go for it. Fashion isn’t about hard and fast rules. It’s about knowing who you are and what you can get away with. 

Holding shot: Gosford Park