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The magic of the new old-fashioned femininity

Sister jane (4) jpeg

Print dresses in oversized silhouettes have proven their appeal across a widespread range of womenswear customers. Drapers analyses the magic formula 

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Molly Goddard autumn 20

Silhouettes are growing in volume, hemlines are creeping floorwards and cosy cardigans are making a comeback. From Laura Ashley dresses selling for hundreds of pounds on Ebay, to the March sisters from Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women becoming unexpected fashion influencers – a classically feminine mood has been dominating womenswear in recent seasons.

“Old-fashioned” or vintage-influenced pieces are creeping back into wardrobes, and a modernised take on “prim and proper” dressing has emerged as a dominant trend in high street and designer collections alike.

Brands such as Molly Goddard and Shrimps exemplify the style, while names ranging from Gucci to Ganni, Reformation and the Vampire’s Wife are all referencing this more modest aesthetic.

Beyond the catwalks, the trend has become fashion catnip for shoppers, as brands and retailers offer new, modern twists on floaty dresses, long-line skirts, full-sleeved blouses and retro cosy knits.

As the autumn 20 international fashion weeks draw to a close, the trend looks set to retain its dominance well into next season. The catwalks have been overflowing a new kind of femininity: demure collars at Ganni in Copenhagen, Molly Goddard’s oversized tulle skirt and jumper combos in London and Fendi’s 1940s power dressing in Milan.

Anna Ross, fashion editor at trend forecaster WGSN, believes it is a reaction to today’s turbulent sociopolitical landscape: “This sort of dressing represents finding moments of joy in a world that has increasingly dark twists and turns.” She adds that it represents a “new kind of power dressing” that moves away from restrictive styles of trends past: dramatic voluminous skirts as opposed skin-tight pencil styles.

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Cecilie Bahnsen autumn 20

“We initially pinpointed this trend as ’new femininity’ – a sociopolitically fuelled aesthetic, driven in many parts by movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp.

“Big, playful silhouettes, layers of tulle and floor-sweeping hemlines almost take on a subverted stance on what it means to be ‘female’ today. They are typically ‘feminine’ aesthetics and so can be read as a reclamation of sorts in times of suppression – these are looks that take up room and make a statement.”

Pierpaolo Piccioli’s dizzying creations for Valentino and Danish designer Cecilie Bahnsen’s whimsical, doll-like dresses are two luxury highlights Ross says exemplify the trend.

Time for comfort

Beyond the aesthetic, there are other factors making the trend popular with shoppers: comfort and convenience. 

Styles are geared towards feminine silhouettes and very wearable fits

Bernice Arriagada, Sister Jane

Bernice Arriagada, designer of London-based womenswear brand Sister Jane, explains that its styles appeal to shoppers with their fusion of femininity and practicality: “These are all elements of an ultra-feminine aesthetic and celebrate the modern woman.

“Oversized shapes have been key, and with the reintroduction of fitted waists, contrasting with pretty puffed sleeves and ruffle hems, styles are geared towards feminine silhouettes and very wearable fits.”

Much like Zara’s famous polka-dot midi-dress, which took Britain by storm last summer: fluid, voluminous, floral styles are flattering for shoppers across the board, at any age or size. They also offer a one-stop solution to sophisticated dressing – and when paired with a cosy cardigan, are practical to boot.

Clever buys

For retailers, the new feminity is a smart buying choice for the new season: versatile products cater for a wide variety of shoppers.

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Stine Goya Jasmine dress

Bethany Rowntree, founder of ecommerce site Studio B, has seen this first-hand and gives the example of the Jasmine dress from Danish brand Stine Goya : “They’re super-easy to wear but have a statement look. They’re flattering and can be layered. Big voluminous dresses can be worn over jeans, or worn with bare legs and sandals in summer.

“They are also perfect for bumps – I had three pregnant women buy the dress on the same day last week.”

Womenswear brand Rixo also focuses on versatile dresses.

Co-founder Henrietta Rix observes: “They’re a great wardrobe investment – suited to today’s lifestyle where it’s important to be able to wear something that sees you through the day and is both demure enough for the office, but can also be dressed up for drinks.

“Today’s customer is so conscious when they are shopping, they need items that are completely versatile that they can re-wear constantly, no matter the season or occasion – something that these pieces offer.”

There is a comfort in the nostalgia of these styles

Malika Zagzoule, Urban Outfitters

On the high street, Urban Outfitters is another retailer banking on the trend. Alongside its own designs, Urban Outfitters has collaborated with Laura Ashley on a collection of dresses, shirts, tops and shorts that features the 1990s favourite’s vintage prints and voluminous styles. It launched in June 2019 and has had two collections to date. The retailer reports that new styles have sold out fast.

“Both the silhouettes and the Laura Ashley prints are absolutely iconic – you can single them out among a rail of vintage instantly,” says Urban Outfitters womenswear buying director Malika Zagzoule. “The collection keeps the best of those distinctive elements: the high necklines, the ruffle edging, empire line and, of course, the beautiful prints. It’s a real delve into the Laura Ashley archives.”

She adds: “There is a comfort in the nostalgia of these styles. They’re overtly feminine, but not because they’re revealing or typically sexy – it’s women dressing for themselves and expressing their individuality in a way that feels fresh and at the same time, familiar.”

Younger milennial or Generation Z shoppers, such as those Urban Outfitters targets, are taking the traditionally feminine themes of retro dresses and reworking them for a more modern approach too, says Zagzoule – opting for dresses that clash broderie anglaise with neon bright colours, and pairing chunky boots and trainers with cosy cardigans.

The new femininity’s broad appeal and versatility are a winning combination, encompassing the comfort of the classics, sustainable motivations and flattering, practical styles. This trend meets the changing demands of the modern womenswear shopper, and is appealing for brands, retailers and consumers alike.


Four brands embodying the new femininity

Justine Tabak

Floral riding house dress

Designer Justine Tabak’s eclectic, quirky dresses take inspiration from the eccentricities of the British Isles – ”from Lancashire Mill Girls to London’s Pearly Queens and Kings” . Launched in 2016, the brand the manufactures in the UK using primarily British-made materials. Wholesale prices range from £70 for a top to £140 for a maxi-dress

Sofie Sol Studio


Danish designer Sofie Sol describes her brand’s goal as to create dresses that are so comfortable they feel like “ornamented PJs”. The signature balloon-shaped, ruffled styles epitomise the comfortable, easy-to-wear shapes.  

Wholesale prices range from DKK699 (£78) for a tote bag to DKK2,499 (£280) for a satin dress.

Cras Copenhagen

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Drapers spotted new sustainable womenswear brand Cras at the autumn 20 shows in Copenhagen, as it made its debut at CIFF. With its oversized styles, ruffles and prints, it is completely on trend. Bold prints are paired with long hemlines and sleeves for an aesthetic that is flattering and feminine.

Wholesale prices range from €38 (£31) to €67 (£56) for dresses +45 21127405


00028 batsheva rtw fall 2020 credit alexei hay

New York brand Batsheva was founded by former New York lawyer Batsheva Hay in 2016. Hay says that prairie, hippy and Victoriana are all influences on her aesthetic, and the resulting designs have gained traction thanks to the brand’s savvy social media strategy – which has resulted in 78,000 followers on Instagram. The brand has six UK stockists, including Browns and Harvey Nichols.

Wholesale prices from £79.20 for a top to £246.4 for a cotton midi-dress.

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