Proust is one of those great literary masters that “serious” writers like myself always reference. At the beginning of this summer, when my new iPad2 arrived, I had grand plans to download Proust’s masterpiece and perhaps even Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace – and actually get through them by Labor Day! All those grand literary plans got sideswiped by the Royal Wedding. In prepping for my “day of” coverage, I kept running into terms like “modesty” and “propriety” in the official palace press releases – words, I might add, that don’t really apply to what city women wear in heat of summer. A chance find at a favorite thrift store secured me a matched set of hardbound palm size volumes of England’s best loved novels. Thus, my summer went from Proust on an iPad to Jane Austen in original typeface.
Despite my longstanding appreciation of the evocatively written word, I find myself increasingly an avid participant in the new media revolution. So, with a quick trip to the PBS store online, my throwback summer quickly became supplemented with the circa 2007 BBC remakes of the entire Austen oeuvre on DVD. I didn’t want you to think I was sitting around reading novels by the light of candles I had hand dipped myself! What the movies make instantly clear that the novels assume you know are the standards of dress of the day. “Modesty” definitely ruled supreme over the much loved romantic heroines of Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Mansfield Park.
Ever since the fall Paris shows for Spring Summer 2011, I have been a huge advocate of Jil Sander’s orange maxi skirt, plugging it here in my column and using it as inspiration for all the spring photo shoots I art directed and styled. With summer fully upon us and the oppressive heat in force, I know that many of my friends and readers are at a loss as to what to wear around the city that is comfortable and still chic. What follows is my summer shopping guide to the maxi skirt.
Austen’s heroines may have struggled with Sense and Sensibility, but you’ll have no questions at all about being fashionable even in the debilitating heat of summer. A vast array of options is available to you this summer. Juliette sleeves and empire waists on ankle length dresses may have been the fashion in the 18th century, but today’s “modesty” is defined by the 40” – or longer – skirt.
Richard Nicoll’s coral silk crepe de Chine maxiskirt is the perfect option for the woman who loves color but wants something a little more subdued than the bright orange and fuchsia Jil Sander originals. You’ll look perfect strolling a city avenue or swirling through a summer garden party. If you’re a Missoni girl, you’ll love Alice & Olivia’s multicolored striped maxi. The skirt has just enough swing and sway to draw all eyes to you wherever you go.
If you’re more at home in a mini – or a micromini – and this whole maxi thing has you fretting about being fashionable and showing off your best assets, then opt for the high slit or side slit slim maxi skirt. My favorite is Helmut Lang’s brushed jersey side drape version. The draping at the hip is slightly more forgiving than straight cut versions and the peekaboo high slit will put a little sex appeal in every step.
Many designers offered pleated maxi skirts but I honestly think that volume can be very tricky. Instead, go for ultra-lightweight tiered ruffles. The movement is much more flattering for all types of figures. Lanvin’s Blanche maxiskirt in white silk tulle is light as a feather and ultra-feminine.
If you need something dressy for a night out on the town, channel Bianca Jagger and Jerry Hall in circa 1970 Halston in Donna Karan’s hammered stretch satin maxi skirt. Pair it with a vintage YSL le smoking or a Balmain blazer for the perfect au courant tuxedo look. If you want real drama, then go for broke with Jason Wu’s silk lined black tulle maxiskirt with mini train.
The maxidress of Austen’s circa 1770 heroines may have been the penultimate in modesty and femininity, but the denizens of Studio 54 circa 1970 showed us that the maxidress can also be sexy. Today’s maxiskirt is the perfect combination of all three. Pick the right one for you and you’ll be the heroine in your own personal summer romance novel!
1. Jil Sander Spring 2011 RTW, Style.com
2. Richard Nicoll Two-tone Silk Crepe de Chine Maxi Skirt, $625
3. Alice & Olivia Shannon Printed Maxi Skirt, $485
4. Helmut Lang Draped Brushed-Jersey Maxi Skirt, $370
5. Lanvin Silk-blend Tiered Skirt, $3240
6. Donna Karan Hammered Stretch-satin Maxi Skirt, $1595
7. Runway to Green Jason Wu Tulle Maxi Skirt, $3050