Being boring

Why boring clothes are back

I was going to review “Colour Revolution” at the Ashmolean this month, a celebration of the Victorian passion for pigment that runs until mid-February. Now, I adore all things Ash … but colour — it’s jumped the shark, baby. Glorious for the Victorians, but we Caroleans aren’t feeling it.

The pandemic obsession with rainbow-hued serotonin dressing (c.f. my seminal March 2021 column) is, like, so over. Colour for colour’s sake is feeling de trop: a tad tacky, insufficiently sleek, non-serious.

We will maintain elements, obv. However, the catwalk craving is for the monochrome rather than clown-like. Meanwhile, all that stuff about the death of the heel, binning of the suit etc? Mate, I told you it would be a flash in the pan.

We witnessed the beginnings of this with spring’s stealth-wealth fixation: a re-run of NormCore in fancy (Italian cashmere) pants. A few months down the line, Grazia’s style gurus are inquiring: “Is your wardrobe boring enough? — Crumpled shirts, old jeans, nondescript t-shirts — fashion has entered its banal era.” Adding: “If you buy one thing for autumn, make it a grey jumper”: veer M&S or Uniqlo.

While as Karen Dacre notes in the Sunday Times Style section: “The new-look high street is a hotbed of well-cut camel coats, nicely tailored trousers and more office-ready shirts than you can shake a stick at. If it all sounds a bit boring, that’s because it is (in the best possible way).”

Even Milan fashion week — notorious for its Dolce Vita glam — is giving us basic bitch, the modishly mundane. For autumn, Prada showcased elevated nurses’ uniforms — “real people, real jobs, real life”.

For spring ’24, Gucci’s new creative director Sabato de Sarno dropped his predecessor’s granny glam for a grey hoodie, beige mac, denim jacket and navy pullover. Bottega Veneta offered a white t-shirt, Fendi a white shirt, Moschino classic jeans with “classic jeans” inscribed on the rear. Even those perennial leg humpers Dolce & Gabbana featured flat shoes.

One imagines this will reach its apotheosis in style-maven pash Phoebe Philo’s feverishly awaited eponymous label, due out on 30 October. Philo’s exquisitely nuanced, beautifully wearable, shoutily non-shouty, super-spendy clothes of the “perfect” navy jumper sort dried up in 2017 when she stepped down as creative director of Celine.

Her departure not only led to others attempting to fill this lucrative gap, but transformed “old Celine” — her Celine — into a second-hand consumer phenomenon.

Meanwhile, the edgiest normal is a starchy office norm that many had declared forever killed off by Covid. Conjure a CorpCore power dressing: pinstriped Gordon Gekko drag paraded on and about the catwalk, prior to infiltrating the world of work itself.

The jacket is huge, actually and metaphorically — clean-lined, architecturally shoulder-padded, great news for those of us who look as if we’re melting sans structure. Trouser suits have been with us for a while.

Now skirt suits are staging a return — witness German tailoring [coughs: uniform] giants Hugo Boss and the robot-hosted Techtopia it held in Milan, complete with Gigi Hadid in performance pinstripe, a pencil in her bun.

Pencil skirts are all about, even at feministphile Dior. Net-a-Porter has more than 300 on its site, Reiss and M&S are going large, while even practical stylistas Me+Em are on board.

Sport with a white shirt, the female shirt and tie, or a twinset, a bob, and the Succession-scorned “ludicrously capacious” working-woman bag. Sheer stockings may be a thing, but this is less sexpot parody than workaday — not so much fuckable as fuck-you-overable.

All dressing is cosplay and what this semaphores is our old friend, economic doom. Striving to be an individual? No one cares. Yearning to channel some capitalist ambivalence in the cut of your jib? Do it in your own time.

Merely demonstrate that you are employable with ambitions to hit the C-suite, forsaking “lazy-girl jobs” for the executive hustle. This means winter catwalks privileging day-dressing over night, and not merely because of the Hollywood writers’ strike, or the fact that no one can afford to go out, but because we’re all too busy earning a crust for socialising in high style. Don Indie Sleaze off the clock, but get ahead in office Matrix mode.

I’m not sure The Young are quite ready for this. Those Gen Z / Millennial cuspers with their mullets, desultory piercings and gender-fluid rags, or health and safety-imperilling lash-and-nail combos sported with gynaecologically-revealing athleisure. Still, maybe it’s exactly what they need.

This article is taken from the November 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

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