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Fashion’s obsession with historic dressing
Gucci AW20Courtesy of Gucci

Why dressing like a historic period drama extra is so hot right now

We might be living in 2020 but fashion’s living in 1820

For a number of reasons (some of them more obvious than others), this fashion season was notably different to its predecessors – not least because streetwear-informed collections, once completely inescapable, were few and far between.

Instead, designers looked in new directions for inspiration. Imagining the impending apocalypse we’re hurtling ever closer towards for AW20, Marine Serre and Demna Gvasalia both presented collections designed for the end of the world and beyond, but it was the past that captured huge swathes of fashion’s biggest players when it came to their latest offerings.

From Gucci’s OTT 18th century-inspired gowns and Paco Rabanne’s Joan of Arc-esque chainmail looks, to pannier dresses at Puppets and Puppets and Telfar’s renaissance-era nightshirts – by way of Jeremy Scott’s wildly fabulous Marie Antoinette-inspired extravaganza – the clock was dialled back and the drama cranked up on runways around the world. 

It isn’t just on the catwalks we’re seeing these looks come to life, though. FKA twigs has been bringing back Baroque style (with a little help from designer Ed Marler) for some time now, while Arca, Bella Hadid, and Rowan Blanchard have also been spotted offering their take on the trend. 

Here, we explore why historic dressing is on the rise and why it’s highly likely you’re lusting after a corset, a flouncy shirt, or, for the more avant-garde among you, a pannier skirt right now. Strap in. 


When Virgil Abloh told us ‘streetwear is dead’ at the end of 2019, the internet went wild. Though he clarified his comments a few weeks back – saying the trend isn’t actually over, it’s just evolving – it seems the deal may have already been done (but then, that’s not surprising when the aesthetic has been chewed up, monetised, and spat out as a KFC bucket hat c/o post-capitalism). 

Now, with that out of the way, designers are seemingly all about playing dress-up and offering a touch of escapism through their collections. While Gucci can usually be relied on for that, this season Alessandro Michele amped up his more-is-more maxim, debuting a series of looks that could have been ripped right off the Victorian dolls that litter charity shop shelves across the land, and dressing models up in traditional 18th and 19th century gowns. 

New York’s Puppets & Puppets also offered a fully-formed fantasy that channelled not just classic fairytales but the contents of your childhood dressing up box, as modelled by the likes of Caroline Polachek and Richie Shazam.  

And even Dior’s menswear offering, usually all clean lines and contemporary styling at the hand of Kim Jones, paid tribute to late London legend Judy Blame, with looks finished Pearly King-referencing embellishments and dandy-esque flourishes. Truly, the times are a-changing.


The Met Ball may have been postponed, but that doesn’t mean its theme (announced last December) isn’t running wild in our imaginations. Entitled About Time: Fashion and Duration, the exhibition was set to offer a disruptive presentation of fashion history, using Vrigina Woolf’s time-travelling novel Orlando, as a reference. While we may not see this vision come to life for some time, this doesn’t mean we can’t fill our days dreaming up some looks of our own. Harry Styles in one of the aforementioned Gucci dresses, maybe? 

With Rei Kawakubo also providing her avant-garde take on Orlando for Comme des GarçonsSS20 men’s and womenswear shows, as well as costuming an opera based on the novel, historic fashion has been creeping into the foreground for some time now.

And that’s before we’ve even gotten started on Zendaya transforming into Joan of ArcAriana Grande wearing a series of OTT tulle-laden dresses, and Lana Del Rey attending as a Gucci angel to the 2018 Catholicism-inspired Met Gala


Some believe in times of crisis we become more nostalgic. If this is true, judging by the season just gone, these are dark times indeed. While designers often look back decades to inform their collections, this season references spanned centuries. With Nicolas Ghesquière clashing together different time periods – from the 15th century to the 1950s – in an attempt to ‘remix history’ for his Louis Vuitton show, elsewhere historic dressing referenced the past to make a point about the present. 

In a typically extravagant runway presentation which saw models make their way down the runway in leather and denim pannier mini-skirts, Jeremy Scott explained the inspiration behind his OTT Marie Antoinette Moschino show came from how our political landscape mirrored that of the 18th century. “In Chile they’re protesting against a rise in subway fares; obviously my home country’s gotta lotta shit goin’ on, and y’all Brex-exiting,” the designer explained post show. “Thinking about that turmoil it’s very similar in a way.” 

With Telfar, Undercover, and Yuhan Wang also providing their takes on the trend this season, fashion’s explosive obsession with the past seems to denote a collective tiredness of the future. As the world ostensibly crumbles around us, now more than ever we should all find solace in the fun of fashion and do some dressing up – even if we have nowhere to go.