(Originally posted on The Judgment of Paris Forum, May 30th, 2004.)
For years, this site existed in a state of perpetual frustration with the fashion world. We treasured the beauty of plus-size models as living embodiments of the Classical ideal, but despaired at the clothing that they were asked to wear, which ranged from flowing formlessness, to deadly dullness.
But mainstream fashion was hardly any better. Women's wear in every size range seemed to consist largely of redesigned men's apparel, from incessant variations on the business suit, to jeans and slacks, to baggy exercise wear.
The exciting peasant/gypsy/romantic trend of a few seasons ago was a bright spark in the middle of this long, dark age. However, despite its popularity with the public, the "mainstream" fashion world resented it--and resisted it--and buried it under a renewed tide of boring basics.
But even as the romantic rage was suppressed, the idea behind it survived--the idea of reintroducing femininity to a world that had all but forgotten it. And now, for Summer 2004, the feminine revival in fashion is everywhere--blooming right before our eyes, like an orchard of cherry blossoms.
Even the most stalwart defenders of fashion modernism have acknowledged this cultural shift. Magazines as customarily unbearable as W and Vogue have published issues with titles such as "Romance Returns":
and "The New Femininity":
The latter phrase is especially intriguing, because "The New Femininity" is as much of a paradox as was Mode's famous slogan, "The New Shape in Fashion." After all, the plus-size female figure was the acknowledged ideal of beauty in every century prior to the twentieth, and femininity was revered as the essence of womanly allure throughout human history. So how can these timeless ideals be considered "new"?
Well, in a very real sense, they are new--at least, to the majority of people living today. Entire generations have now grown up in a world that denies and rewrites the past. Much of society suffers from an induced state of "cultural amnesia," and is unaware of its own heritage. The notion that a woman can be full-figured and beautiful is just as much of an unexpected discovery to the general public as is the idea that women's apparel can be soft, and flowing, and ladylike, rather than boxy, and angular, and an effort at masculine mimicry.
Therefore, to a majority of the population, these eternal principles have become . . . genuinely novel. * * *
Here are some examples of the "New Femininity," as displayed in a recent issue of Marie Claire magazine:
The captions advise readers that:
"The season's sexiest dresses are inspired by lacy slips and silky nightgowns."
"Ultra-feminine details like these will turn fashion lovers into frill seekers."
"From bold and bright to pale and pretty, blooms are blooming."
The styles of today's feminine revival retain many popular elements from the "peasant" vogue, such as frills and ruffles. They incorporate a heady dose of colour (especially "citrus" hues, and vibrant floral prints), and are often made out of delicate fabrics with exotic-sounding French names, like "chiffon" and "tulle."
But most importantly, they are absolutely tailor-made for the fuller female figure. Even though we have seen few examples of the "New Femininity" modelled on plus-size goddesses (so far), the cut of these designs makes them entirely favourable the plus aesthetic. These dresses do not look best in a designers' sketchbook, or hanging empty on a clothesrack (which were the ideal methods of display for most twentieth-century couture). Rather, they are created with the womanly figure very much in mind, expressly tailored to highlight the beauty of deep decolletage, soft shoulders, curvaceous arms, and ample legs.
Whereas flat, angular, androgynous fashions strain against replete, womanly curves, these feminine dresses embrace the body, hugging its contours, and drawing attention to its intrinsic allure. The beauty of curvaceous goddesses and the beauty of these soft styles compliment each other perfectly.
As one can see in the Marie Claire image, although the dresses are lovely, the models' figures are glaringly inadequate for showcasing such feminine styles. On these walking skeletons, the dresses hang limply, like used dishrags. But on buxom goddesses, whose fuller physiques fill the dresses out properly, they acquire their intended shape.
Here is a test image of Valerie from earlier this year which demonstrates just how much better such styles look on a plus-size model:
And here is an image of Crystal Renn from Vogue's otherwise deplorable "shape" issue of 2004, which indicates the same:
* * *
Like the peasant/romantic trend before it--but in a more dramatic way--the "New Femininity" has brought about a schism in the fashion world, which until recently spoke with one voice. In an article about the incipient Fall/Winter 2004 season, a writer for FWD put the matter quite plainly:
"Think of fashion this fall as a showdown between the Restoration and the Revolutionaries."
This observation is more meaningful than the writer himself probably realized, because the current dispute in the fashion world is simply the latest battle in the ongoing war between the Aesthetic Restoration, and reactionary modernism.
Indeed, many fashion commentators misunderstand just how radical a movement the "New Femininity" is, when they compare these captivating new styles to the outfits of the 1950s. Despite occasional similarities, the most intriguing developments in the feminine revival look back much further for inspiration.
The 1950s, after all, were dominated by the character of the American suburb--a environment that was pretty, but in a regimented sort of way. The "New Femininity," on the other hand, harkens back to something far more elemental--something wilder, and more exciting.
As many readers have already realized, the actual wellspring for today's feminine revival is the beauty of the natural world--the memory of which lives on in our collective unconscious, even as we eke out our existence in the midst of a grim, grey, urban landscape.
The greatest examples of human artistry have always echoed the wonders of nature, reconfigured by the power of the human imagination. Gothic architecture, for example, is an interpretation in stone of the towering forests that once covered Northern Europe. In like manner, the delicate garments of the "New Femininity" are directly inspired by the verdant glory of the organic world. The frills and ruffles recall flower petals. The yellow and green fabrics bring to mind lush meadows covered with wild blossoms. The ubiquitous citrus colours are reminiscent of the fruits of the earth.
Turning to nature for artistic guidance is, in itself, a timeless practice. Throughout the history of Western art, feminine beauty and natural beauty have always complimented each other, with one type of splendor enhancing the other. Poets have forever likened the charms of their muses to the charms of the world around them. Artists creating paintings of Classical divinities have invariably situated their full-figured goddess within lush, natural environments, with breathtaking landscapes stretching off into the distance:
Such works express their creators' desire to equate the delights of their goddesses with the delights of the natural world, to indicate that both manners of beauty are one and the same. The attractions of Giorgione's female figures in Nymphs and Children in a Landscape with Shepherds (above) are in perfect harmony with the attractions of the countryside--and together, they offer a vision of beauty that affects the viewer on the deepest, most profound level.* * *
Spring/Summer 2004 has been a banner season for the Aesthetic Restoration, albeit in a surprising way. We always expected the resurrection of the Classical female figure to lead, and a revival of feminine clothing styles to follow. But now that femininity has been restored to the fashion world, we hope to see a reintroduction of the full-figured ideal as well, as society realizes that timeless beauty--in all of its incarnations--is far preferable to the emptiness of modernity, and is an indispensable part of the richness of life.