Two thousand seven was a lovely summer. The weather was warm, the street cafés were bustling, and Shore traffic was tolerable.
But the best — the most liberating — part was what I and my fellow Philadelphia ladies were wearing while soaking in all this summer fabulousness: tank tops that were loose starting just under the bust. Jersey dresses with babydoll cuts. Tunics that announced our summer chicness. And then there were the glorious ballet flats. Clothes were comfy, and so were we. And dressing like this was in; if you could fall asleep in the outfit you wore to work all day, you were doing it right.
But then, I noticed: When I’d bring home a new pair of Tory Burch Revas, the Boyfriend would feign puking. At a July wedding, when my girlfriends and I were fawning over a friend’s to-die-for Robert Rodriguez tan shift dress, her fiancé kept asking if we were really admiring The Sack. When another friend donned a billowy tank that came down to her mid-thigh, her husband asked if she must insist on looking homeless. Here we were, comfortable and trendy as could be — and the men were averting their eyes.
But now — lucky them! — fall silhouettes have swung in the other direction: The autumn lineup is all about structured pieces, high-heeled shoes, and hair and makeup that’s ever in place — and the men are all sighing It’s about friggin’ time. But since there’s no way the Fashion Designer Gods heard their whining, what gives? And more interestingly, will Philly — known for taking its time to embrace trends — hop on board?
“Fashion is based on many things — economics, the season, the environment, outside trends, textiles,” says Roberta Gruber, director of the design and merchandising department at Drexel’s College of Media Arts and Design. Combine those factors into the perfect fashion storm, and you start to understand the changing silhouettes. Designers reach into the past for inspiration, and the last few seasons’ blowsy silhouettes can be seen, really, as a throwback to the ’70s; the women in their 20s and 30s who purchased them en masse did so because these designs were new and fresh to them. Then there’s today’s Everything Green mind-set, which lends itself to cotton — which lends itself to said loose designs, perfect for a sweltering East Coast summer.
But as fashion ennui set in, designers felt a longing to be more polished. New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn described the fall collections as “fashion that is recognizably human.” It looks like, and clings to, the female form. And so we’ve ended up with this season’s glam effect. Even, yes, here: “When it comes to the designers who are doing the ladylike looks, I’m seeing the best numbers I’ve ever seen,” says Melissa Dietz, general manager of King of Prussia’s Neiman Marcus. And it makes sense, she says: “Women in Philly are busy, powerful, and it’s quicker to wear a dress than to match together six items.”
So Philly women are on it. And that men are smiling again? Convenient side effect. Says Gruber: “It’s a rare man who likes to find a woman in anything comfortable.”