- Style •
Nov. 27, 2015
Aug. 13, 2015
With a letter from a reader I am testing gored skirts classical appeal in the modern world and indulging in a sartorial memoir along the way.
Earlier this summer a reader named Sophia sent me a letter requesting advice about “a particular type of skirt.” That particular type seemed to crowd her closet, but she did not feel the skirts were doing her justice. She asked what to pair them with and what shoes to pick. One of the options Sophia considered was to swap them with some of her romantic looking friends. The letter caused a stir in me. I am that romantic looking gal and the two skirts Sophia showed, though full and voluminous, were not romantic at all. Also, what she filed under “this type of skirt” looked like two very different skirts in my book.
The dark one could technically pass for godet style also referred to as gored, trumpet, or mermaid. The style is defined by a smooth, elongated line that fits the hips snugly and then flaring at the bottom and forming ultimately feminine S-shape lines. This dramatic change sets gored skirts apart from seemingly similar dirndls, A-line trapezes (her beige one), and circle frocks.
I am big on godet only for me they seem to be more of a winter item. Preparing to talk about godet in summer time I have unearthed old linen DKNY skirt that I bought more than ten years ago in a Los Angeles Macy’s for $50. Back then I was single I worked from paycheck to paycheck and spent all my free time on a flamboyant Los Angeles salsa scene. All my clothes were made of clingy synthetic material to ensure they were resistant to my sweaty dance-floor existence. Everything cost $5-15 and bought in shady stands of Los Angeles’ garment district and had a touch of Kardashian style that was yet to hit the world hard. I had an office wardrobe too. Once my dance infatuation started wearing down I began to realize that someday I might want to invest myself in other meaningful things. During one of those reflective weekends I bought my linen gored DKNY skirt. The $50 then felt like a $650 purchase on Net-a-Porter today. It was the year 2004 and I was in my mid-20s.
Now, nearly a decade later, I got the skirt out of storage and took a closer look. It somehow survived wardrobe declutterings and multiple moves. But what could it possibly offer me now that I was a mother of two enjoying my life in Silicon Valley clueless about the nearest Macy’s location, hunting for The Row pieces at Saks, and stalking DSquared2′s astrakhan mid-calf skirt on yoox.com instead?
The DKNY Macy’s 2004 skirt was constructed in circles, its thick seams like veins of an oversized leaf. Despite its classic silhouette it was by all accounts earthy and a far cry from my current style: romantic and constrained. Yet, my rearing of two toddlers in the Bay Area meant I needed to succumb to its rugged, outdoorsy environment. The skirt seemed to be able to cater to that. It allowed me to be outdoorsy and casual without compromising the classic style my physique chose to bloom in.
To keep things polished I bought Kate Spade’s last year sell-out pointy Keds on EBay. I actually bought them for another linen project and here they came handy too. The pointy toe seemed to convert any mess into that sought after “carefully undone” mix. My next challenge was to find a suitable top. Back in the days when trumpet skirts were more of a uniform than an extravaganza, the notion of a “perfect tee” did not exist. That came in with the rise of athletic torsos and chiseled facial features. Previously imprisoned in corsets and rigidly tailored jackets, they were now breathing freely in soft jersey. But as the former stepped back to make way for loose knits, the soft contoured Gainsborough-looking creatures (like moi) found themselves puzzled and confused about how to avoid the dreadful babushka look.
I could probably employ a tailored jacket with the flared linen skirt if I had my breakfasts served on a terrace in Como. But I was not in Como. And nobody served my breakfasts. Instead I felt more like a 24 hour waitress for my kids in our Los Altos home. Yet the celebrated “perfect tee” also took me nowhere. I needed the edge of my top to be perfectly controlled and intact. This is when a cropped top trend came in as a deus ex machina. Mine was a cotton cropped, chambray blue blouse by Viva Aviva that featured oversized ruffles with underlying organza for a more sculptural effect. A dash of formal never fails to help me keep my casual looks pulled together and enjoy myself more during those
dreadful outdoorsy experiences.
Now I had to fight one last problem that gored skirt presented and I was up for a prize. The problem was a bag. No matter how you turn it, gored is a ladylike skirt. And a ladylike skirt needs a ladylike bag. You can’t just show up in a ladylike skirt with a loose bohemian tote picked up on vacation in Peru, or various derivatives of such. That will jumpstart your babushka look in no time, a slave to tradition and lacking in polish, which is exactly what everyone trying to tame those skirts is dreading. The purse needs to be boxy and sharp and preferably small since the trumpet skirt still carries the image of a classic lady, both fragile and vain. Even if it is far from what you project into the world right now, you need to find ways to weave this plot into the faction of your life. It would be great to actually check in with yourself first to see whether somewhere deep inside you do have that fragile and vain string that’s been kept at bay. Otherwise, why bother with trumpet skirts at all?
Luckily the bag-pack trend was still in full bloom and allowed for an exceptional variety of designs, including the dainty, polished, and highly elevated finishes so much needed here. With the trophy from my recent trip to Buenos Aires, a cobalt blue leather bag-pack in alligator print, I knew I was fully equipped. The bag-pack was both small and roomy. It was outdoorsy by the mere fact that it was a bag-pack. And yet, it featured a glossy baroque finish.
How did I wear my skirt back then when I just bought it at the dawn of the century? I cannot remember. Maybe it was part of my Sunday best? It was probably graced with heels. Though no-name canvas sandals dating from the same period, with a very convincing Hermes looking buckle, seems like a potential mate. A decade later the skirt proved still capable, only now it retired as a perfect hiking outfit. Well, with a bit of historical imagination it did pass for a hiking outfit indeed.
My second gored skirt made its way into my wardrobe via the benevolence of a friend. She spotted it on Neiman’s sale rack and brought it over. A navy blue, light wool Armani item from the 2011 collection was all refinement and very quiet allure. Constructed in panels with invisible seams, it created an easy, unobstructed flow of the fabric. Which is exactly what makes us tick. The skirt is a go-to item for all my winter European travels. Paired with blue suede 50/50 Stuart Weitzman boots and a dyed blue ombre mink jacket, it keeps my Instagram feed updated with shots worth of Amelie’s traveling garden dwarf Polaroid collection. It’s notable that during my first European voyage three months after I gave birth to my first child I borrowed almost an entire traveling wardrobe from this same friend, along with a black leather gored skirt. It was one of the best garments that ever touched my skin. Not only did it serve as a shield in those Berlin November chills, it also miraculously diminished all my post-pregnancy weight. It is amazing how women tend to think that the more weight they put on the flimsier their fabric must be (in order to not put on extra weight), when it’s exactly the opposite. Those thicker surfaces actually do make our childbearing selves look svelte. Anyway, I borrowed the leather gored skirt for my trip to Berlin and returned it to its lawful owner.
The next time a similar design popped up in collections, I was pregnant with my second child. By the time I gave birth all the sales were over and I could not fit into the Ralph Lauren size 2 black nappa leather godet that was all what was left. I will sure not let this chance slip away the next time leather gored skirts come around but for right now I tried to turn my navy blue Armani trumpet skirt into a summer look. This was easy. A sleeveless turtleneck in the same navy blue added a dash of sport to the ladylike skirt and I had my very own version of a LBD ready to accommodate an array of shoes. Only I had to meet all the same requirements: the controlled edge of my top, an armor-like sturdy bag, and the pointy toes to keep the ladylike appeal going. While heels with this look are a staple, flats seem edgier, only they need to be over-the-top: thick white soles and/or finishes full of glitter and shine. Heels or flats, godet pushes you toward fragile, impractical, festive, and vain designs. No sporty, comfy, or sensible shoes. This isn’t the time.
After raiding my storage drawer once more, I pulled out the last summer trumpet skirt left. It was reminiscent of the linen DKNY one, and an indicator that those reflections had actually formed into something. By the time of this purchase, I had moved from LA to the Bay Area and started dating a Silicon Valley old-timer and physics PhD, and this was for our first European trip together. The skirt was a slightly longer version of my LA milestone, made of thin cotton in a deep cranberry hue. Constructed in circles, its seams were invisible, but the hem was fussier. A smoother fabric and a sophisticated hue indicated a more formal upbringing and a better pedigree. Unfortunately, the simple finish could not match the ambition of its voluminous cut. It was an aspirational skirt. A teenage girl stepping into womanhood or a college graduate at most would shine in one, combining her budding femininity and teenage ease. I was nearing my 30s and had slightly outgrown it, but I did not realize it at the time.
Unlike its linen compatriot, the cotton frock was as uptight as it was useless. No one could possibly hike in it as it did not reveal any tolerance for sneakers; its excessively flared hem cried for heels. Meanwhile its simple fabric could only accommodate unassuming fabrics like raffia, canvas, basket weave, or multiple cut-outs. Now, deep into my thirties, this kind of look could only take me around my own backyard hosting a kid’s birthday party. The combination of the skirt’s gullibility and ambition fit well among Michel fancy paper plates.
A couple of years after I got my aspirational red skirt I ordered a replica of it in dark brown Italian silk. Its rich flow reminded me of a dark chocolate fountain, but I didn’t wear it once. It would have looked darn good with tango and ballroom shoes, or Manolo’s satin confections, only the dark chocolate silk skirt happened to me at the same time I started a new chapter. I started having kids, weight and mood fluctuations, sleep deprivation, and fatigue. Passions of the dance floor became history. Now that my oldest has celebrated her fifth birthday and my youngest is half way into his fourth birthday, I have tip-toed the San Francisco dancing scene. Soon I will find accompaniment for my dark chocolate brown Italian silk trumpet skirt.
None of the skirts discovered in my closet matched Sophia’s. Though constructed in typical godet panels with flare, it was a romantic imposter just like my red aspirational skirt. Its romance is skin-deep. The athletic length, sturdiness of the denim cloth, and contrast stitching reveals one good skater skirt, a sure sporty gamine number that no romantic, friend or by-passer, should be asked to struggle with. But going back to Sophia, she is not your typical aloof romantic beauty either. Having the privilege of seeing her sans Fantômas glasses (put by Julia Bolchakova) I can tell you she has her very own (and a little Mia Farrow) ingénue appeal. Thus, after powering through guidelines for my fellow-romantics, I seemed to come up with some sound advice for her. Coming soon.
Nov. 27, 2015
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