Summer ‘drille

Hannah Betts chooses floaty frocks and espadrilles

This article is taken from the August/September 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

Fashion yields no greater oxymoron than the term “summer style”. M’learned friend Leandra Medine Cohen, creator of the Man Repeller fashion blog-turned-empire-turned-cancelled post-colonial entity, coined the hashtag #lovesummerhateeverythingelse.

However, Medine is a long-limbed anomaly, currently looking fantabulous in pants not in the American sense of trousers, but actual pants teamed with flats, bare legs and a Chanel jacket.

For those of us for whom this would be ill-advised, warm weather presents a series of sartorial challenges, and I’m not just talking about my college tutor advising me to sport pop socks with my sub fusc because “no one wants thrush during finals”.

All the qualities that make clothes a force for good are abandoned in summer — tailoring, plush materials, flights of fancy of the epic sort — in favour of the functional, the mildly whimsical, so much dismal droop.

All the qualities that make clothes a force for good are abandoned in summer

Much goes on that represents an abuse of the female anatomy, be it hips, thighs, or breasts any bigger than a nipple. “Boho” becomes a euphemism for “ghastly”, feminine “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane”. “Easy” “a sack”, and minimal “effectively naked”.

In the past, I’ve consoled myself with the fact that the British summer lasts ten days tops and ignored it. Still, I refuse to be vanquished by this stuff.

As with good sex, good outfitting is a numbers game — never more so than in the case of a summer dress. To wit I tried: Matches, Net-a-Porter, Yoox, Zalando, The Outnet, TK Maxx, eBay, Etsy, Hewi, Vestiaire Collective, Pucci, Tory Burch, Norma Kamali, Jets Australia, Melissa Odabash, Camilla, SU Paris, Le Sirenuse Positano, Derek Lam 10 Crosby, M Missoni, Tara Jarmon, LF Markey, Hayley Menzies, Alexa Chung, Cefinn, The Fold, Toast, Yolke, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Kitri, Kate Spade, Hobbs, Sosandar, Finery, Nobody’s Child, Rixo, Ghost, Anthropologie, Essentiel Antwerp, Arket, & Other Stories, Jigsaw, LK Bennett, Monsoon, Zara, H&M, Boden, and ASOS. Fashion pals recommended Albaray, Next’s Label/Mix line, Ridley, Reformation, Sika, Three Graces, Wiggy Kit, Omnes and Sézane. However, by then, I no longer cared whether I lived or died.

For comic value, I involved my partner in my labours. His judgments ranged from “You look kinder, softer, crapper,” via “It fits your body, but not your mind,” to “Mother of God, no!” (puffed sleeves, sweetheart necklines, gathered waists and/or kaftans). You will have your own physical requirements. Mine are that I don’t resemble a fat doll.

Accordingly, I require simple, structured, high-waisted, below-the-knee, non-transparent garments in fabrics that don’t carry the scent of death. Should you find something that actually flatters, treat it as the nonpareil it is and invest in two, by which I mean three.

After six weeks’ questing, I came up with a Jets Australia fitted kaftan (more of a linen dress) for garden / beach / pool (£108, reduced from £212, at The Outnet). For all else, I cheated and fell back on Hayley Menzies’s silk maxi shirt dress (below), a monochrome version of which I sported last summer in Venice to a collective swoon. Feather-light, its cut is impeccable, yet relaxed, suggesting one’s figure sans tawdry cling. This year’s Twilight Safari incarnation took a month to perfect, festooned with palm trees, parrots, prowling tigers, and Menzies’s signature gold medallions (£460).

I adore Hayley’s wares, a self-described “rock n’ rolling stone”, who progressed from the London College of Fashion, via a stall in Portobello Market, to being stocked in more than 17 countries. The Menzies thing is “refined rebels” and this one can’t get enough.

Espadrilles are what we are told we require with this sort of thing. I tend to find ’drilles appealing in theory, unworn in practice: even Castañers, a brand at it since 1927, in its signature, lace-up-the-leg, Carina model, sold at John Lewis as they are Net-a-Porter (£85). Jones the Bootmaker boasts a cracking take called Arabella in scarlet suede and raffia (£89). If you’re doing flip-flops, and I fear you will, do yourself a favour and make them slim Havaianas (from £18).

My final urging is Essentiel Antwerp’s Zeacon tote. The ’twerps accessories are seriously good and this obnoxiously over-sized shopper comes in David Icke turquoise, f*ck-you fuschia and Big Bird yellow (reduced from £140 to £84).

I deploy mine with an emerald Aurora London crossbody (the Gigi, from £120) for maximum satirical zip. And, behold, that’s me done until October. Ciaosters, sun seekers.

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