What started as an awards-season trend continued all through Fashion Month. And so did my concern.
I can pinpoint the moment The Trends started to worry me.
To start, I’m not one to impose style rules. I don’t believe in fashion “dos” or fashion “don’ts,” and I pride myself on not wanting to impose my own tastes on persons who do not share them. So it was shocking to feel such a strong aversion to one of the biggest red-carpet looks this awards season: tassels.
At the Oscars alone, we saw them on gowns worn by Margot Robbie (in Chanel, with tasseled pendant) and Laura Dern (in Armani Privé). These were accents I’d previously associated exclusively with lampshades — and I hated them.
But maybe they were just a means of keeping the award show circuit finale fun and exciting, I whispered quietly to myself. Maybe channeling ballroom with a hint of saloon would stop with the end of award shows.
When it came to fashion, I’d finally nestled comfortably in my bubble of prioritizing simple pieces I felt good in, and while I’d made room in my life for flip-flops, Uggs and Crocs (at least soon) after disavowing them, tassels — and similar frills on apparel — were an unrealistic stretch. Besides (I thought, comforting myself), they were likely just a temporary thing — a last hurrah of red-carpet chaos before we all returned to regularly scheduled programming. Fashion week would restore order and trends I could really get behind.
And reader, how wrong I was.
The Fall 2020 collections haven’t been shy about being over-the-top. Isabel Marant gave us oversize (and I mean oversize) shoulder pads. Saint Laurent par Anthony Vaccarello debuted a shiny, one-shouldered mini dress with an incredible oversize one-sleeved embellishment and a waist-length neon feathered coat that evokes the spirit of Kermit the Frog. Meanwhile, Y/Project’s feathered coat is as beautiful as it is non-functional if you live in, say, an area rich in deep snow and salt (hi), while Valentino and Loewe’s offerings are striking, but certainly statement-making above all else. (Similar to the exaggerated volumes of coats by Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga.) And then there was Gucci: a collection of full skirts, tulle, Victorian-esque sleeves and ruffles.
All of it was beautiful, but it sparked within me terror.
Which I know is more about me than it is about the trends themselves. Every time I’ve gravitated towards wearing excess or statement pieces, I’ve done it as part of a reaction to something else going on in my life. Broken heart? Double-down on lace and ruffles while nicknaming myself the Victorian Ghost. Feeling stagnant? I’ll pour myself into loudly-colored, embellished pieces that suggest I’m someone who would never dig herself into a professional or personal rut. Unsure of myself? Why not abandon my old clothes and reinvent myself entirely, hoping the rest of me will follow suit if I suddenly decide to give big sleeves and silk a try.
Ultimately, thanks to the last decade, I’ve come to associate statement-wear and embellishments with trying to cultivate a false sense of success or opulence. It took so much work to learn to feel fine dressing like me. (I’m currently wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt and oversize flannel from my friend’s vintage store, and will never not wear mom jeans again.) To have to go back is something I just can’t do. It just isn’t me.
The thing is, I know I’m also projecting. When pitching this piece, I asked my editors whether they thought the luxe/OTT trend suggested that we were desperate to seem rich, or whether we’re all so obsessed with opulence that we’ve come to lack coherence in terms of style. I love the idea of being too much in terms of who I actually am, but I believed that layering one’s self in textures and fabrics and sleeves upon sleeves felt almost like a too-easy way to announce a distinctive personality. Why? Because that’s what I liked to do. I liked to build on trends like tassel earrings (which, for the record, I can’t wear because my ears aren’t pierced) and interpret them through novelty vintage sweaters and button-ups I found at the thrift store.
Often, I haven’t felt financially stable or professional enough or like a reasonable grown-up, so I’ve played dress-up. Not because these were the clothes I wanted to wear (truly, I just want to dress like Winona Ryder in 1994) but because of the message I believed they sent.
In fact, at no point did I ever come to believe that neon, feathers, puffed sleeves and even tassels could simply be fun— an option for day-to-day wear or even something to don as a coping mechanism to tackle the insufferable nature of so much of our social and political landscape. (Never doubt the power of wearing what makes you feel strong.)
So what if the Fall 2020 collections suggest channeling Marie Antoinette? (“It’s not too much, is it?”) Or if a grown human wants to drape themselves in tassels like a beautiful lamp, why should someone like me — someone who feels her best dressed like somebody’s big sister in 1996 — broadcast her knee-jerk reaction as though it’s anything but a personal vendetta against the persons I used to be?
Really, what’s great about the Fall 2020 collections is that they’re so easy to interpret — that, despite how complicated they may seem or how “desperate” I initially read them to be, they encourage experimentation and joy.
The excess of collections by Saint Laurent or Givenchy allows for anyone hoping to experiment with style and color and feathers to do just that — whether that’s by attaining ready-to-wear pieces or by finding the equivalent at the mall (or vintage or thrift stores). They provide the opportunity to escape and to cope and to re-invent if necessary. I may not want to revisit the looks I once gravitated towards because they remind me too much of how sad I’ve been or how desperate I’ve felt. But that isn’t to say those moments weren’t valuable, or that I didn’t learn about myself. Maybe the Victorian Ghost was exactly who I needed to be to get through what was happening. Maybe fashion’s commitment to going full-out is the much-needed answer to someone trying to look for herself.
But I will still never wear tassels. I’m not a woman who cares about the saloon, nor am I about to break into The Can-Can. Though if you ever see me wearing them in the future, don’t you dare question me: I’m obviously trying to deal with something.