Monday, 20 February 2012

Peplums: frill seeking

A Fashion Alphabet, 'Peplum: A skirt with a hip yoke, very fashionable in the 1930s'

That's Janey Ironside's definition for these strange flounces that seem to have suddenly attached themselves to otherwise quite straightforward skirts and tops, and a term that seems to be plastered across fashion pages, ranging from Vogue to Reveal.


From what I can tell, the earliest peplums were attached to a skirt but over time were added to jackets too, or even a dress, such as in the stunning 1930s lace dress shown above (sold by Vintage-a-peel).

They were popular from the 1930s through to the 1950s, virtually disappeared in the silhouettes of the 60s and 70s (perhaps explaining why Janey's Ironside definition sees them as historic), coming back with a force in the 1980s and again for us lucky folks in 2012.


For me, they fit best with the styles associated with Dior's New Look: firmly putting the emphasis on the waist, they enhanced the feminine shape of a tailored suit or a pretty cocktail dress.


The 1980s used them as part of their reinterpretation of the 1950s to add impact and drama, as in the case of this wonderful  Zandra Rhodes top.


But in my mind they also call to mind the worst frills and flounces of the 80s, like this green creation. Perhaps that's why Phoebe Philo insistently called them 'basques' in her influential Spring/Summer 2012 collection for Celine - the peplum carries with it too many historical associations and not all of them good.

I don't think you realise how much you get used to seeing your body dressed a certain way until you try it in a completely new shape. The first peplum-enhanced outfits I tried on looked plain odd on me - why after years of trying to slim my body down, did I want to add volume? Did I look like I should be auditioning for the cast of a panto? (see also these shoes). My personal solution came when I was trying to find something to wear with a plain pencil skirt which was enjoying clinging to my runner's thighs and red wine tummy. Suddenly, by wearing a top with a handy peplum, all that was hidden and it created a shape that was uncharacteristically sexy for me. It's a solution that directly contradicts the advice given by Dior in his Little Dictionary of Fashion:

"If you have a slim hipline you can wear any type of skirt - pencil slim, gathered, bouffant or flared. But if you are not as slim as you would wish then you must avoid too much bunchiness in your skirts; never choose flounces or frills..."

Hum, Dior's advice, or four decades worth of fashion to search through for inspiration? It's a tough decision but I'd always call it on the side of experimentation. Go and have some fun with some frills and flounces.
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  1. Never been a fan of them. It's like they ruin perfectly pretty dresses! But I do have large hips, I'm perhaps cleverly brainwashed into staying away from them.

    1. Hum, I think they can be a disaster - but the right one on the right frock really helps create an hourglass look.


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