Is It Time To Re-Embrace the Waist?
Hourglass silhouettes have been all over the fall and spring runways but is a sign of the stylish times or the return of problematic 1950s? Fashion news director Annika Lautens investigates.
When I was 13, I told my parents I was going to work in the fashion industry — nay, I declared it. What inspired such an announcement, besides being an overly dramatic youngster? Grace Kelly in 1954’s Rear Window. More specifically, the black and white hourglass gown designed by legendary costume designer Edith Head.
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It’s a quintessential 1950s design: the tight midnight black bodice, the mountainous layers of fluffy white tulle, the strand of pearls, and the vine embroidery that emphasizes Kelly’s waist. To quote an old Barbie-related meme: This was my Joker, and I’m not the only one still obsessed with the hourglass style.
Circle skirts and hourglass blazers were arguably the newest and freshest trend to hit the Fall 2023 and Spring 2024 runways. It started last winter when Prada, Versace, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga and more made cinched torsos and midi-length full skirts mainstays in their Fall 2023 collections. The trend was then further cemented this past September, with Prada preserving the silhouette in its Spring 2024 show and Max Mara, Balmain and others joining the conversation. But what does the return of this restrictive silhouette say about the culture at large? That’s up for discussion.
For context, Christian Dior introduced the revolutionary silhouette — hourglass blazers paired with full skirts, coined the “New Look” — in 1947. Its over-the-top femininity and excess (one skirt used an estimated 20 yards of fabric) was a reaction to the austerity and practicality of the fashion during war times. The design was about decadence and hope for a post-war era; returning to the new normal.
The 2023 landscape obviously looks a little different but that’s not to say we aren’t experiencing echoes of the above. As Kimberly Wahl, professor of Fashioning Feminism at Toronto Metropolitan University, told FASHION, “we can’t rule out the current post-pandemic context.” She adds that enforced casual wear, economic concerns and overall conservatism have had a huge impact on the fashion industry. It was only a matter of time before the pendulum swung the other direction and lockdown loungewear was replaced with more tailored styles, like corsets, quiet luxury businesscore and hourglass blazers.
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Canadian designer Matthew Gallagher clocks another reason for the resurgence: a craving for structure in both our lives and closets. “Our world is so chaotic that there is something about the control and refinement of the silhouette that feels safe,” he says, referencing his brand, House of Gallagher, whose designs are heavily influenced by the ’50s and ’60s. “There is a ‘perfection’ to the aesthetic that can make us feel like we have stability despite all the noise around us.”
That said, the 2023 revival of the hourglass silhouettes has some unfortunate “coincidences.” While the ’50s are more than seven decades behind us, there are some eerie echoes of the problematic culture. According to UN Women, gender disparities are worsening. Domestic violence, and overall violence towards women, has increased. Women’s reproductive rights have never been more in danger with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. And conservative politicians are encouraging a false nostalgia for a time when anyone who wasn’t a white, heterosexual, middle-class man was ostracized.
But Gallagher argues that this time around, the trend is different. Rather than being emblematic of enforced femininity, hourglass blazers and the 1950s silhouette are about reclaiming the narrative and finding freedom in a style that used to be literally and figuratively suffocating. “We can now wear the look without altering a woman’s body,” he reflects. “The clothes may look the same, but the wearer has a stronger voice.” It’s their choice if they want to adopt this style — society isn’t forcing it on them.
Wahl agrees, adding she doesn’t believe the shape is “inherently regressive,” however, in order for it to be progressive it needs to be inclusive to diverse body types and genders. “Clothing that ‘blooms’ allows the wearer to be expressive in ways that are not limited to finite (and standardized) notions of what a fashionable body should be. For me, this offers a proactive space for those who identify as women (as well an non-binary) to feel empowered by their clothing.”
Conclusion: Context matters. “I would say that now, more than ever, our understanding of what ‘feminism’ is through dress is as varied and complex as it ever was,” shares Wahl. “While some women view an expressive sexuality through their clothing as empowering, others continue to assert that mobility and comfort are the key to power. Ultimately, I do think many ‘feminists’ agree that the ultimate signifier of agency in fashion is the ability to choose how you dress to express your personal perspectives, aesthetics and even politics.”
If you feel powerful and confident wearing a black bodice and white tulle skirt à la Grace Kelly, go for it. If it makes you feel too much like a ’50s housewife, opt for something else instead. What matters is you are in control of your own narrative. But, as with most things in life, variety is vital. Layer your references to avoid doing a Sandy from Grease impression (pre-moto makeover). Mix in The Frankie Shop Colette hourglass blazer with a pair of straight-leg jeans. Wear a Prada circle skirt with a slouchy crewneck. And kitten heels go with everything.
Scroll down to shop our edit of the best hourglass styles.
Cecilie Bahnsen Circle Skirt
Red is the undeniable colour of the season so why not check off two trends at a time? This Cecilie Bahnsen skirt is made to be worn with a cozy crewneck. We recommend going for more neutral colours, like grey or navy, to avoid bad ’50s cosplay.
House of Gallagher Shirt Dress
How do you toe the line between mod and modern? Leave it to Canadian brand House of Gallagher to perfect the two. Trade in the pill box hat and gloves for some silver kitten heels and accessories and you’re ready to go anywhere.
Ganni Fitted Blazer
Raise your hand if you’re tired of wearing big, boxy blazers. Go to Ganni for the Scandi-girl solution. A pinstripe keeps this style street style-approved.
Mango Pleated Skirt
Consider this Mango skirt a dupe to the less-affordable Prada ones. The box pleats give it a school-girl vibe but when paired with the right leather jacket and boots, it’s perfect for any extracurriculars.
Timeless, elegant and refined are the first words that come to mind when describing this Self-Portrait dress. Keep it current by adorning it with bold accessories. A killer shoe or pair of earrings will work wonders.
Dynamite Belted Blazer
For days when you only feel like wearing jeans and a tee, add this blazer by Dynamite to give your ‘fit a little extra oomph. The belted waist will keep you snatched while the taupe-y colour complements your complexion.
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