The prairie dress: 2018 > 1918
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Trending: the prairie dress

The prairie dress: 2018 > 1918

Words— Mylène Genty

Fashion is a circular phenomenon, inviting trends from previous decades to be re-interpreted and remixed, au goût du jour. But seeing a trend from 19th century be revived - that’s another story.


You may be familiar with prairie dresses through specific works of pop culture but it never really stepped in your personal life. It’s a costume, a relic of the past.



It's a dress that's difficult to identify with when the style itself came through as an adaptation of high fashion to the practicalities of rural life... in the western United States. With a flared silhouette, ruffles, frilly collars and the lace mock turtlenecks, the conservative air of it seems old-fashioned.  


By now you must have pictured Laura Ingalls Wilder from Little House on the Prairie or Maria from The Sound of Music, but there are more stylish inclinations of this aesthetic.



Take the "Formation" video. Beyoncé channels ghosts of the past with high-end prairie-like gowns, adorned with intricate lace in a Victorian fashion. It’s not as puritan, as what we’re used to seeing. There’s a seductive twist. The dresses evoke the Southern culture in the 1800’s, and with it, its implications of race, class and femininity. The aesthetic of these particular scenes is strongly inspired by Daughters of the Dust, the other-worldly movie directed by Julie Dash. It follows the journey of a black community torn between past and future, heritage and progress. In the movie, the dresses evoke this attachment to an ancient way of life. More recently in Westworld season one, we’ve seen one of the main protagonist, Dolorès, wearing the same dress over and over again: the cornflower blue pioneer dress. It’s a constraining dress that fixes her into a limited persona.


In between these literal inspirations on prairie fashion, there’s the Virgin Suicides. Without tapping into all the codes of the aesthetic, the styling conjures the overall mood that this traditional style possesses. The teenage girls are trapped by the close-mindedness of their parents, and their garbs reflect that confinement. At its core, the prairie style feels restrictive, body obscuring, and modest. So why is it trending today?



Maybe it’s the fatigue linked to the overexposure of bodies. Silhouettes that are unrevealing have this private appeal, it’s also a way to dress for yourself instead of others. It’s also refreshing to take something that used to be restrictive and adapt it to a new, freer reality. Maybe it’s just really comfortable and perfect for fall.


Prairie dresses don’t have to be costumey or be taken straight out of the 1800’s - Florence Welsh and other boho lovers have been channelling the prairie vibe for a while - in a way that feels romantic and poetic.  


Here, a few ways to incorporate the look for today: 



An urban twist




Nothing says remix like a full-on frilled floral dress with a pair of fresh kicks. You can earn a few extra street cred by accessorizing the whole thing with a neutral hat, like a baseball cap.



Bohemian to 11




Take a cue from Florence Welch’s impeccable bohemian looks. We can unashamedly copy her style by first wearing a pair of high rise heeled boots. Because the length and the prints of prairies dresses can have a heavy effect, you want to add some height to elongate your silhouette. Why not go all the way and stack up a few pieces of jewellery, too?



Belt it up




The ideal dress should slightly highlight your waist - think empire cut, because waistband free dresses might have a pyjama effect. If that’s the case, make sure you put on a complimentary belt. For a more feminine and delicate outfit, finish up with a pair of simple loafers, like Aurora James here. 


The look may seem hard to pull off, there are a lot of floral dresses out there that have the vintage look, minus the overloaded feel. Pick one that highlights your figure and then the choice will be yours to adapt it to your personality.


Check out more trend-pieces from Mylène (How to wear wide leg pantsCorduroy: Arguably fall's best fabricOxford lace-ups for women & What is Gen-Z yellow?and others in the Style section

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