If, as the saying goes, history repeats itself, then the 2020s might be closer to the 1920s than we had previously thought—at least, fashion-wise. After all, that was the decade that came roaring back to life after the twin horrors of World War I and the 1918 influenza pandemic. 

Then, bodices were let out; both hair and hemlines were chopped as signs of liberation; and fringe and frippery abounded. Now, if the spring/ summer 2021 collections are anything to go by, fashion is turning to riotous colour, exuberant prints and, most of all, statement-making silhouettes that envelop the body while making its place in the world absolutely unmissable—no surprise after a year that has reshaped the way our bodies exist in and navigate the world. 

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Forget Sweatpants. It’s Time To Play Dress Up Again
Photo: Loewe

The pendulum swing is also a direct riposte to the months we’ve taken refuge in loungewear and athleisure. This season, fashion seems to be reminding us that there is joy and power in the sheer act of dressing up—all the way up. Leading the charge is Jonathan Anderson at Loewe. After years spent refining and streamlining his Loewe offering, it was like an explosion went off this season—of creativity, yes, but also of colour, shape and texture. During the pandemic-induced pause, his directive to his team was to just go crazy creating the most extreme of what they had in mind. 

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“It’s better to embrace a moment that is challenging than pretend that it’s not. When you bring different parameters, creativity can really flourish because it makes you think differently,” says Anderson of his thought process. The results are sleeves that look more like balloons and wings, handwoven leather armour containing clouds of silk, and dresses in the form of giant trapezes and poufs—their fantastical shapes held up by bonings and crinolines. Taffeta, tulle, sequinned knits and broderie anglaise are ruched, puffed, twisted and knotted. 

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A younger generation of designers is also taking up the cause. In a few short years, Christopher John Rogers has made a name for himself by bringing full-on glamour back into American fashion. This season, his clothes telegraph not just glamour, but also optimism and zing—think ball dresses and oversize suits in highlighter neons and hothouse florals. 

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It isn’t all drama though; in a concession to our WFH era, there is a new wearability in Rogers’s designs— one that harks back to the times of great American sportswear. Net-a-Porter’s Senior Fashion Market Editor Libby Page, one of Rogers’s biggest champions, says: “The brand’s thoughtfulness came through evidently in this collection. We’ve been mentoring him on how [to] break into new categories, and we love his introduction into knitwear and his clever use of cotton.” As Rogers puts it, “I think there has been a renewed interest in high glamour that’s also pragmatic.” 

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Forget Sweatpants. It’s Time To Play Dress Up Again
Photo: Molly Goddard

Across the pond, Molly Goddard carries the torch for glamour as the antidote to gloom. This season, her signature tulle skirts are blown up to new proportions and rendered in colours so bright, they’re almost acidic. Thrown into the mix are the things we’ve come to rely on over the past months: Billowing, breathable cottons, cosy knits and a collaboration with UGG in zany Crayola colours. Goddard’s clothes have always had a naive, joyous quality to them, but she seems to have doubled down on it, delivering delight to the world via dress. 

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Forget Sweatpants. It’s Time To Play Dress Up Again
Photo: Simone Rocha

Her fellow London designer Simone Rocha also doubled down on the qualities that have made her brand so resonant with women of all ages and backgrounds. As always, there is fantasy in the pieces that evoke fairy tales and faraway times, but they remain resolutely rooted in reality. Her soft, cocooning shapes swaddle the body without ever constricting it. Her adornments—the pearls, the bows, the intricate embroideries and embellishments—are dreamy but never costumey. “I do believe that fashion, like art, offers the chance for fantasy, for escapism, for imagination, for beauty. And I think that will be important as we come out of this period,” says Rocha on what drives her work. 

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A romantic view of the world has always been central to Sarah Burton’s work at Alexander McQueen, but it is always tempered by an edge. Beauty and brutality to her are two sides of the same coin. This season, she cut ladylike mid-century couture shapes out of biker leathers and faded denim. There are pouf sleeves, full skirts, blush hues and layers of tulle—but they were worn with buzz cuts and combat boots. Amidst all the softness is razor-sharp suiting, some with entire sections sliced out of them. Burton describes her headspace this season as fixed on “the beauty of the bare bones of clothing stripped back to its essence—a world charged with emotion and human connection”. 

Forget Sweatpants. It’s Time To Play Dress Up Again
Photo: Alexander McQueen

Savvy retailers are already sensing their audience’s emotional connection to this desire for more beauty. Net-a-Porter’s Page says: “People are looking for escapism and optimism. Dressing up can instantly shift your mood and attitude, and now more than ever, it’s important to do things that will lift us up, to find joy and exhilaration in fashion.” 

Natalie Kingham, Global Fashion Officer of MatchesFashion.com, adds: “We love the sense of optimism this season—everyday pieces have been uplifted by designers experimenting with bold colours and prints. There is definitely an appetite from our community to put something special on—it will be a welcome escape.” Or as Anderson puts it, “sometimes, it’s nice to kind of escape into clothing”. And sometimes, an escape is exactly what is needed before we come back stronger than ever.