Flight of fancy: how fashion hitched a ride on retro glamour

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 December, 2011, 12:00am


Ever since the Mad Men phenomenon, style seekers have been looking for the next retro TV series to shake up their silhouettes. That show launched a return to femininity and made pencil skirts and tight sweaters go mainstream. Well-coiffed hair and pearl necklaces came with a dose of office sexism in the programme, but were embraced by sartorial experts.

Soon everyone and her mother had secured a polka dot circle skirt, cashmere twinset, neck scarf and high-waisted skinny belt. There wasn't a trouser in sight on screen except on the men, who wore dapper double-breasted suits, scarves and trilby hats. This, in turn, brought a return to more masculine silhouettes on the men's runways.

After years of modernism, a more traditional look has taken over our sartorial consciousness. Women's fashion has rebelled against the minimalist androgyny of the catwalks to celebrate the kitsch stylings of a 1950s housewife or secretary. Even the high street has embraced the trend.

The spring 2012 runways give a clue to where the world is turning for style tips. Although many designers would hate the insinuation that they would lift a look from a TV show, there are suspicious signs that is happening. The meticulous look from the series Pan Am is the likely successor to Mad Men in terms of kitsch mid-century retro inspiration. The mile-high fashion club has certainly found fans.

The show, about comically good-looking Pan American airline stewardesses in the '60s, has apparently already increased sales for short gloves and pill box hats in the US and Britain. Perky vintage print summer dresses, cat-eye shades and dainty handbags have become very much in vogue. Wearing retro headgear, like those veiled hats at Jil Sander, is one of the hottest ways to channel bygone eras.

We can rewind even further, to the Boardwalk Empire gangsters and their molls in Prohibition-era Atlantic City. The show's protagonist, Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson, might be no looker, but his wardrobe is certainly an enviable asset for any man. He has perfectly starched collars, pressed shirts, shiny classic shoes and three-piece suits. It's the look that every guy wishes he could achieve.

His two love interests echo the spectrum of womenswear in the '20s. The prim and proper Mrs Schroeder stokes conservative styles, while the irritatingly sulky sexpot Lucy, played by Paz de la Huerta, comes with slinky backless outfits with a fur stole over her shoulders. John Dunn, the costume director, has done quite a remarkable job.

Once the party season comes round, the '20s flapper influences will become more visible. Art deco shapes, fringing, trompe-l'oeil are perfect for this festive season and are already appearing in high streets stores like Zara, H&M and Club Monaco. Suiting for men has also become more heritage.

Next spring, you'll see the likes of Ralph Lauren and Emporio Armani channelling a Great Gatsby vibe in soft light hues. Prada might have borrowed from the '50s, but it's now the '20s period, with its loose and straight shapes, taking charge.

That first world war era is also channelled stylishly in Downton Abbey, which is sweeping across British screens with ferocity. Industry insiders have claimed that it has brought aristo-chic back to the high street there. The silhouette, which is looser, makes this trend a very comfortable one to adopt.

The long and short of it is that early 20th century chic is back. And this festive season is a perfect time to test the waters.