Summer style: why it’s all about comfort and joy

Dressing from the shoes up is an adage that fashion likes to trot out from time to time. And, tellingly, shoes provide everything you need to know about where fashion is at any given moment. For spring 2014, fashion editors attending the latest shows weren’t in the regulation heels that anyone who has seen The Devil Wears Prada might expect. Instead, >flats prevailed: Adidas Stan Smiths, Céline satin skater shoes and – the alpha choice – Prada’s crystal hiking sandals. The message? Suffering for your style is out. Comfort is in.

Forget the high heels and strappy dress that has ruled Saturday-night style for the past decade. Instead, trainers, wide mannish trousers, sweatshirts and pool slides are being pushed hard as the unlikely wardrobe staples of the spring wardrobe. The latest street style trend,Normcore, takes it to an extreme: it’s all no-label, not-skinny jeans, “Dad trainers” and a grey marl sweatshirt. Think the kind of clothes you pull on when hungover, in search of breakfast, and that’s 2014’s hot look.

But this isn’t a trend exactly. It’s more of a slowburning shift – the tortoise rather than the hare, if you will. Comfort dressing has taken a good part of a decade to show itself. Jane Shepherdson, CEO of Whistles, believes “we’re in the middle of one of those big silhouette changes. It’s a backlash against lady dressing, with the heels and the dress. It’s the total opposite of that – the ugly shoe and the slouchy man’s trouser.”

Make no mistake. When Shepherdson calls the pool slide “ugly”, she is not insulting her own product. Ugly is fashion-speak for shoes that are clunky, bulky and about as far away from a Carrie Bradshaw Jimmy Choo as you can get. For exactly this reason, they look new. The dainty spike of a stiletto is overplayed and oversubscribed. Shepherdson says that, last year, Whistles’ bestselling shoe was a high court. Now, it’s the silver pool slide.
To find out how that happened, skip back to a time when fashion was about a no pain, no gain attitude with “fierce” the favoured adjective. The year 2007 saw wunderkind a story centred on models at a Prada show falling down due to heels that were “perilously high”. A pair of YSL Tributes, with 6in heel and oversized platform, became just the thing in which to nip out for a pint of milk. Burberry and Balmain featured short bodycon dresses, sometimes covered in rhinestones, and often weighing an absolute tonne. In 2009, Victoria Beckham’s stretch sheath dresses introduced her now-familiar First-Lady-does-sexy thing. Looking pulled-together and expensive was the ideal. Comfort – what was that?

But, just as the high-fashion crowd were getting used to the idea of clothes that double up as resistance training, the rest of the world caught up. By 2010, reality TV shows such as Towie, Made in Chelsea and Keeping Up With the Kardashians had the filtered-down version of what had been on the catwalk three years earlier. Their look of bodycon dresses, high heels and “proper” grooming – where tonged hair, contoured makeup and false lashes come as standard – is now mass.

Accordingly, high fashion moved to the flipside. As the noughties reached double figures, “off duty” was style’s favourite buzzword and the clothes celebrities wore on coffee runs – rather than the dressing-up box of the red carpet – were under the microscope. The seeds for comfort dressing began to take hold. “I’d love to think this shift was that women have become more feminist and not so concerned about what men think of them,” says Shepherdson, “but I think it’s more cyclical than that. You need to have the opposite in fashion.”

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