When Did "Wearable" Become a Dirty Word in Fashion?

In a style climate dominated by attention-grabbing influencers, some designers are making the case for clothes that-gasp-people actually want to wear.

From 10,000 feet away or 10 yards, fashion at the moment is preoccupied with escapist wishes and streetwear dreams. It can feel like a stylistic binary, catering only to Alessandro Michele’s maximalists at Gucci or Virgil Abloh’s hypebeasts at Off-White (and Louis Vuitton men’s). Is everyone suddenly splitting their days between queuing up for overbranded sweatshirts and splashing out on fringed hoods and fountain-like tiaras? What, this old thing?

It’s enough to leave a woman who loves fashion but prefers to wear her clothes—not the other way around—feeling invisible. But, lo, she hasn’t been forgotten. It’s just that the girl carrying Mickey Mouse’s head as a handbag is a real attention hog.

Consider this: The day before the spring Valentino show in late September, creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli held a preview of the collection at the house’s Paris headquarters on Place Vendôme. On the runway there would be a cobalt-blue sequin-embroidered cape over printed velvet pajamas, feather-trimmed tunics, and fantastical straw hats sprouting orbits of shoots and petals.


Two looks from the Valentino spring/summer 2019 collection

For the purposes of the preview, he chose to highlight a classic khaki trench over a T-shirt, and the perfect white cotton poplin blouse with poet sleeves over pleated black trousers and flat, “comfortable” sandals that are sold with a detachable feathered strap.

Piccioli’s vision of unapologetic beauty, which either exists or is closely descended from true couture, is almost iconoclastic in a style climate ruled by irony. His collections capture a dream, but for spring he noted the importance of bringing the fantasy and extravagance of couture into reality. “Fashion has to deliver messages, but it also has to deliver pieces that people really desire,” he said. Feathers are fabulous, but finding the best pristine white shirt can be a religious experience.

Miu­ccia Prada isn’t one to hold back. Intellectual, experimental, prone to dissonant flourishes and complexity, she also knows her way around the wearable, a word that once rang with the most acute note of derision. For spring she found herself simplifying, recoiling from the excess with minimalist satins that recall her now-iconic ’90s, while showing all the new branding mavericks out there how to wield a logo chicly.

A model walks the runway at Gabriela Hearst's spring/summer 2019 presentation last September

Gabriela Hearst is the shiny new thing shaking up American fashion. Even the snooty French have taken notice of her knack for knowing what real women want, the kind who earn and spend their own money; LVMH took a stake in Hearst’s brand earlier this year. She means business. Diane Lane, Laura Dern, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been photographed in Hearst’s suits, which come in dusty pink with wrap details on a jacket for spring.

There are cool, sporty color-block knit tank dresses and pleated cotton poplin shirt dresses for something polished, feminine, and easy. Easier still are Hearst’s wallet necklaces, which are worn like a luxury lanyard, because who doesn’t want to be hands-free?

Nutter belted wool, silk and linen-blend blazer, Gabriela Hearst,, $1,890.00 Oversized satin coat, Dries Van Noten,, $2,060.00 Wool and silk-blend wrap-effect mini skirt, Valentino,, $1,100.00 Asymmetric crepe midi dress, Victoria Beckham,, $1,815.00

If Hearst’s tailoring kills softly, Clare Waight Keller’s at Givenchy cuts like a knife. The combination of razor-sharp jackets and cropped trenches paired with high-waisted utility pants combine glamour and purpose. Tibi’s oversized suits and midi-skirts and knee-high boots in pastry colors don’t have to try to be cool. Outside the big-box brands, Co, Derek Lam, Rosetta Getty, Khaite and Adam Lippes are serving clothes that are smart, real and not at all generic. Reality isn’t always pretty but it can still look fabulous.

A look from Givenchy Spring 2019

It’s time, then, to cut short the vigil some purists have kept since Phoebe Philo left the building at Céline. Philo’s mega-influential tone is still on the reverb. Here’s looking forward to her former colleague Daniel Lee’s new look for Bottega Veneta. And who knows? Philo herself may yet reappear.

*This article originally appeared on

*Minor edits have been made by the editors

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Jessica Iredale
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