Every summer, a certain trend arises. It pairs well with iced coffee, can be spotted at almost every brunch table, and emits an air of breezy, summertime cool.
In a season that dismisses pants, shirt trends are vital for the summer aesthetic, acting as another warm weather pleasure in our dog day repertoire. Last year, the off-the-shoulder top liberated collarbones everywhere, and the year before that, bodysuits put wedgies en vogue.
This year is the summer of the puff — a voluminous statement sleeve that oftentimes has Victorian or peasant-chic accents. It’s breathable, Instagramable, and can serve as a flotation device at pool parties. Brands everywhere have dominated the trend, serving up Anne of Green Gables proportions with a latter-day twist, including LPA, Cecilie Bahnsen, and my personal favorite, Maison Cleo.
Like most trends, this one is recycled a couple times over. After inflating one decade, then exhaling the next, its presence is not few but is far between.
In the 30s, a decade of apparent nothingness, economic collapse ensued after 10 years of leisure and liberation in the flapper era. Hardship instigated a return to traditional values, where soft, womanly shapes reflected the new mindset. It pushed the pendulum away from the boyish shapes of the 20s and into the uniform of the feminine mystique in the 30s.
Jumping forward a half-century, the 80’s welcomed the sleeve as a puffed-up power play, a literal broadening of the shoulders that gained women entry to the corporate boy’s club. In a time of economic prosperity, ostentatious dressing celebrated wealth and consumption. The concept that “bigger is better” was reflected not only in property sizes but in the shoulder spans of women everywhere.
To sum it up, the 30s puff and 80s puff shared shape but opposing standards. While one reverted to tradition amongst hardship, the other propelled its adopters forward through economic prosperity.
In 2018, the puff has floated back into relevance for a myriad of reasons.
A Reclaiming of Femininity
Instead of rejecting stereotypes, why not reclaim them? In the past, shunning feminity was a strategic move, as the notion of being female pigeonholed women as passive, gentle, and maternal. Burned bras, shaved heads, and even the broad shoulders of the ’80s separated women from their stereotype. Society was so deep in the bottomless pit of sexism that the term femininity was not owned by women, so naturally, it was disowned. Today, as we navigate through the misogyny that remains, a new approach has been made, a rebranding if you will, of what feminism means to us, the females. It’s this new sense of control that makes the puff so appealing. This soft, delicate accroutement is not an obligatory uniform for the kitchen or the boardroom; it’s whatever we’d like it to be. We can wear it braless at a picnic, with trousers in the office, or while eating a street hot dog drunk at 2am. It’s a freeing and pleasant lol to the past confines of what we, as women, were told to wear.
A Little Contrast
When looking back on this decade, and specifically the latter part of it, it will be defined as the era of athleisure, minimalism, streetwear, normcore, and many other movements that were either simplistic, sporty, or androgynous. With so many progressive and cohesive trends, it’s a bit of a relief to throw romance, nostalgia, and feminine details into the mix. Season after season of sneakers and sharp lines has made me want to become a human doily, and a human doily I will be.
The Goddard Effect
If you’re familiar with Molly Goddard, you’ve probably fallen in awe of her take on tulle, hyper-voluminous shapes, and exaggerated ruffles. Goddard reenvisioned the princess aesthetic with over-the-top dresses and skirts worn by barefaced models donning flats and facial expressions that don’t suggest they’re in the midst of a tutu. Goddard made the wearing of 8-tiered dresses look effortless and graced this coveted nonchalance upon risk-takers such as Rihanna, Solange, and Agyness Deyn at her 2016 wedding. Unfortunately, pedestrian members of society must fit through doors, so a demand for toned-down (narrower) versions of the Goddard Effect followed suit. Accents of ruffles, tulle, and volume trickled down to the mainstream resulting in the beloved puff. For this Molly, we thank you.
So there you have it, the summer of the puff has bloomed for a variety of reasons. After this season’s romp, it may return in 2038, 2050, or the year 2087. Regardless, I’ll be keeping mine on reserve so I can ring in my 97th birthday in my Maison Cleo puffs.