Origin of the Trend: Peplum

Peplums, especially the exaggerated versions on the Fall/Winter 2011-2012 runway, may seem kind of awkward. And they are–they make blazers and pencil skirts look like rockets and dresses, like space suits. But this retro-meets-Zenon Girl of the 21st Century silhouette is part of their appeal.

And, besides, they looked pretty natural around the waists of ladies in the nineteenth century, when the style’s popularity exploded, following a less-than-notable progression from its origin as a basic ancient-Greek tunic (WiseGeek.com). If peplums can be pulled off in cohesion with corsets, I think they’re probably acceptable when attached to a variety of jackets and skirts sans corsets.

Peplums of the 1800s were accompanied by bustles, full skirts, lace, and thousands of yards of fabric; they weren’t, as peplums of 2011 are, attention-getting. Although the bubble-looking peplum adornments we’ve seen during Peter Som and Elie Saab shows are much more pronounced, however, than their Elizabethan counterparts, the little flounces still have the intent of accentuating curves that was, in the 1800s, a reflection of the goal to appear healthy. Nineteenth century women were assisted by peplums in their attempts either to look a.)  as if they had good birth-giving hips, b.) more well-fed than they actually were, or c.) sexy.

A hundred years later, peplums were revived in the mid-century quest for clean lines and classy femininity. During the 1940s, according to WiseGeek.com, the peplum “took on its most recognizable form. Suit jackets were often fitted at the waist, but fabric extended beyond the waist in an overskirt.”

Although the 1950s threw out the trend, because maybe people of that decade just weren’t very innovative or daring or forward-thinking, it reemerged in the 1980s with the assistance of Thierry Mugler (WhoWhatWear.com).

Since then, the peplum has been a recurrent runway detail, though 2008 and 2009 saw the most recent upsurges in the trend (aside from this season’s obsession with it). As always, peplums are most usually (and effectively/cutely) paired with fitted skirts, jackets, or tops/top-half-of-dresses. If you’re gonna have a dramatic flair, make sure it’s balanced. Unless you want to be a fluff ball or something.

Published at The Lion, The Stitch, and The Wardrobe on November 1, 2011.

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