The spring 2023 ready-to-wear season delivered one viral moment after another with its guest appearances and celebrity controversies. After all, scrollers will scroll. However, it’s preferable to focus on the attire that reflects current events for enduring impact. The best collections responded in a variety of ways to the unrest being caused by the fight for women’s rights, the war, and the environment.
There was a prevalent sense of undoneness, which was represented through asymmetrical cuts (look at all the half skirts) and frayed and wrinkled fabrics that looked worn and aged. Since being prepared is essential in times of turmoil, many styles featured practical accents like hands-free cargo pockets and parachute straps. For individuals with a fighting mentality, some designers went a step farther and made defensive armour.
Textured elements that included the hand, such downy linen, crinkly tinsel, and airy feathers, helped to lighten the atmosphere. The most engaging clothing had a connection to the sensory environment. Designers’ attention to creating clothes that function in a modern workplace through basic tailoring and countless variations on the pristine button-down shirt also helped to keep things grounded.
While the tide of Y2K references with its “Flesh for Fantasy” style hasn’t completely subsided, the body is still in the spotlight for spring, and the revealing but more covered draped goddess dress gave a more sophisticated and elegant alternative. The Little Mermaid with Halle Bailey teaser was published during fashion month, and designers capitalised on that wave hard (the timing is also ideal, as a Madame Grès show will open at SCAD in Atlanta in November). There were surface treatments and trimmings that reminded people of sea urchins and jellyfish in addition to sensual siren features.
Father Time served as the season’s unacknowledged protagonist. Not only are designers unearthing long-buried treasures from their archives, but many of them have also gone incredibly far back to take inspiration from women’s clothes from the 16th through the 19th century. Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite farthingales and voluminous crinolines a la Empress Elisabeth “Sissi ” of Austria walked the catwalks. The early 1920s robe de style was influenced by panniers, the hip enhancing garments worn at the court of the Sun King and shown by Diego Velasquez. These historical allusions are accompanied with clothing that bares the breasts or reveals the nipple. Both of these seemingly disparate impulses speak to women reclaiming their power, either by repurposing restrictive and ornamental clothing from a time when women’s lives were limited or by encouragement to feel at ease in our own skin. The empress’s new garments might be as revealing or as concealing as we like.