Terry Cloth: Is it high fashion or am I just wearing a towel?

For the recurring series, This Is Controversial, we take on a controversial issue of the day and present two strong arguments—one in favor and the other decisively. Previous installments from the series are here.

TERRY CLOTH IS a time-honored fabric for beach covers and tea towels. But this summer, luxury brands from Prada to Alaïa are using the textural material for shoes, formal dresses and more. Does it have a place in the fashion world? Here sound a terrible evangelist and a critic.

Yes, it’s comfortable and stylish, and it originated in France

Who doesn’t love the feeling of stepping out of a steamy shower and wrapping yourself in a plush towel? Now, imagine being able to stay wrapped in that soft comfort all day long. If the power of your imagination weakens, do not worry: in this summer with elegant terra clothes, you can easily make it happen.

Designers’ visions of terry—a fabric that, like many things in fashion, was conceived in France in the mid-1800s—have evolved this season from pool covers and loungewear to retro-inspired suits and ensembles. The fabric took to the spring runways of brands such as Jacquemus and Marine Serre. Prada tapped her to make fuzzy sandals; Bottega Veneta sells a textured clutch; and Paris-based brand Alaïa elegantly covered terry dresses. One such Alaïa model – hooded, in black, with a thigh-high slit – made me a terrible evangelist. I once found terrycloth extremely casual and even tacky, thanks to its associations with Y2K dirty suits and doll dresses (although some may see them as a selling point in 2023). Now I see it as a triumph of light and lively summer style.

“It’s resurfaced in an elevated way,” said New York designer Suzie Kondi, who wore a red t-shirt dress during our interview. She touted the fabric’s day-to-night versatility, noting that it can safely go almost anywhere in her designs, and that a customer recently wore her tank top and harem pants to ballet. New York designer Victor Glemaud said his clients have worn his striped dress (see “Up to the Fluff”) on the tennis court or styled it with kitten heels. “It’s breathable, it’s light, but it still makes a statement and makes you look put together,” Mr. Glemaud said of the fabric. “That’s why I love him.”

TERRY TOWN Fashion blogger Maria Barteczko in a puff sleeve top in Dusseldorf, Germany in 2021.


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Danielle Monti-Morren, 53, is similarly enamored. The Los Angeles commercial and interior designer, whose mother favored terry in the ’70s, wore Juicy Couture’s absorbent dresses to the horizon. These days, she keeps a sleeker, white blazer on heavy rotation, pairing it with a chunky gold necklace and jeans or linen pants for everything from dinner parties to client meetings. Terry bags are another mainstay; she is currently lusting after a fluffy Fendi Baguette.

Lauren Nottes, 31, relies on outfits with sweatshirts, trousers or shorts. The mother of two from New York loves how “light” they are when she runs with her kids from morning to night. For the day, she struts her stuff in sneakers; for evenings out, it’s enhanced with heels or formal sandals.

I too have found Terry a valuable ally in a multitude of situations. I’ve worn my dress to a fashion show, to a cocktail party, on a plane, to the beach, and to get an MRI. How many pieces in your wardrobe can do all that?

No, it’s heavy and looks like you’re wearing a towel

Terry cloth is wonderful. I use towels all the time. After a shower, to dry my dishes, to clean up a spill. But as someone who endured the dreaded 2000s fashion craze, I’d rather keep fabric in the kitchen and out of my closet.

I’ll admit that, in some sunny situations, colored shorts and bathing suits make sense, especially when you urgently need to wipe off your child’s ice cream-smeared face at the beach. But now, for some reason, designers have decided to execute everything from bralettes to cocktail dresses in this bumpy fabric, raising the question: Have we taken it too far?

Kate Davidson Hudson, head of brand for luxury e-commerce site Luisaviaroma, said terry can be interesting when cut and draped by inspired craftsmen at high-end fashion brands. But popular Y2K-era styles like doll dresses and baby clothes should be left in the past. “Terry is a tricky fabrication,” she said, noting that the fabric can feel heavy, giving uncomfortable silhouettes. Really, just think about your fur coat. Comfortable? Absolutely. Flattery? Not that much.

Terry can be heavy (think a bath sheet) making it a curious sartorial choice for summer heatwaves. Emily Smith, creative director of New York womenswear label Lafayette 148, is working on a diaper capsule collection for next summer, but she’s limiting it to loose-fitting loungewear, such as such as appropriate shorts and cover-ups by the pool. She is very skeptical about the durability of the fabric when it comes to more formal styles. “I’m not going to do a little colored dress, even though I can see it happening,” she said. “You have to be a bean for that.”

For many, Terry inspires throwbacks to the era of skinny, skinny girls wearing It Couture. “Y2K is slowly informing designer collections for better or worse,” said Ms. Davidson Hudson, referring to the Z-generated nostalgia for beginnings. Her advice: Embrace the circa-2000 style, however questionable it may have been, in other ways, more attractive. “If you want to tap into the cultural currents of fashion and still feel relevant, it’s probably safer to stick to a bucket hat or a quirky sandal.”

Ultimately, my resistance to the terry comes down to the simple fact that, no matter what form it takes, it’s basically a towel. And the main function of a towel is to absorb. During a recent weekend trip, I – a natural born needlewoman – foolishly wore a trendy ivory blouse to lunch. I immediately washed it with dark balsamic vinegar. For the remainder of the meal, my ivory blouse evoked another Y2K regret trend: spray-paint patterned clothing.

TO WORK / Six summer staples that are equal parts chic and plush

Clockwise from left: Pants, $195, top, $195, SuzieKondi.com; Shirt, $148, Kule.com; Victor Glemaud dress, $495, SaksFifthAvenue.com; Shorts, $60, Top, $90, LaVesteLaVeste.com

The Wall Street Journal is not compensated by the retailers listed in its articles as stores for products. The listed retailers are often not the only retail outlets.

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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