What is the look of summer 2015?
Women of Britain, by email
There are, of course, plenty of lines I could spin you about this. Number one is some guff about the mid-length skirt, which all the fashion magazines and blogs are pushing as the length of the season. They do this every few years – by my reckoning, about every three – and it’s not a bad idea. After all, most style-conscious women aren’t likely to own skirts that end midway down their calves so they will then have to go out and buy them (there is little to be gained by the fashion industry from saying that, say, miniskirts are in because young women generally already have about a thousand shoved in a drawer at home).
The reason women tend not to own many mid-length skirts is that they look terrible. Oh sure, some women look great in them – long, willowy women who wear them and look like elegant bohemian gazelles in their mid-length Marni dresses. But these women look elegant in anything, so who cares? The rest of us, however, suspect we look like substitute teachers from the 1970s and feel about as elegant as dumplings. (Truly, only the rangiest of gazelles feel elegant in a skirt that cuts across at the widest part of the calf.)
What’s that, you say? Marks Spencer has made a mid-length skirt in suede that is absolutely the dernier cri? Oh please, tell me more about this skirt because I honestly don’t think it’s been written about enough everywhere in every British publication! For those who have managed to avoid reading about this accursed skirt (and I can only assume you must be Trappist monks), MS has knocked out some 70s-style skirt that was worn once by Alexa Chung (OMIGOD SCREAM OMIGOD STOP THE PRESSES OMIGOD, etc forever), which has therefore been deemed a Statement Piece, and has only just gone on sale (even though it feels like it’s been promoted since, as Kanye West would say, Prince was on Apollonia and OJ had Isotoners).
Now, we’ve been here before with MS statement pieces, namely the famous (nay, HISTORIC) saga of the MS pink coat, which was deemed back in 2013 to be the Statement Piece. Leaving aside the fact that both the pink coat and suede skirt are ugly as sin (one made women look like Barbara Cartland in an utterly wrong way; the other makes them look like Jessie from Toy Story in an even worse way), the link between them is that they represent a triumph of MS PR over actual fashion for women. Let me explain – with my years of undercover work at the coalface of fashion – how these Statement Pieces emerge: occasionally, a garment will be knocked out by a high street chain that is deemed, by its PR department, to be “marketable”. It will then give this garment to a photogenic celebrity (Chung or Moss, ideally, but random foreign celebrities, such as Blake Lively, Diane Kruger or Olivia Palermo will also do). As soon as one of them wears said garment, the PR department will email every fashion editor in the land with the subject heading “JUST IN” or “BREAKING” or “EXCLUSIVE”, or a similar word to denote its pressing newsworthiness. The fashion press will duly fall in line and promote the garment, mindful that this high street outlet buys a significant amount of advertising in its publication and therefore will not take kindly to being ignored. Et voila, a high street Statement Piece is born. So if you ever wondered at the disjunct between fashion articles telling you that women across Britain are “clamouring” to buy a certain item of clothing and the noted lack of this garment on any woman you actually know or even see on the street, now you know why. Truly, it’s like I’ve pulled back the curtain and revealed the Wizard of Oz is actually just a harassed PR named Natalie, isn’t it?
Let’s all just agree to ignore the fuss about the midi skirt, and particularly the MS midi skirt, and look instead at what is actually the look of the summer. And that, my friends, is the Breton shirt. I know, I know – this is not news, right? Every single one of you has about three Breton shirts in your cupboard at home and one on your person right now. But I think it’s worth noting how fast this item has become a veritable basic for British women, really just over the course of the past half decade. I have one friend who collects them from different retailers; another who had to go cold turkey when she realised she owned 10. I had some friends round for a barbecue this weekend and there were three Breton tops between us, and there would have been four if I hadn’t changed moments before lunch, due to some unfortunate mustard spillage.
You won’t read about this in any of the fashion magazines because, as I say, there is nothing to be gained by promoting something that women already have. And the Breton shirt has become as much of a signifier of the British woman in summer as cropped trousers is of the 50-plus British woman on holiday in a warm climate. Some might say it is too ubiquitous to be considered proper fashion now, but those people can swan off in their ugly mid-length suede skirts and leave us be-Breton-ed ones to enjoy ourselves around the barbecue (mind the mustard).
Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email ask. email@example.com.