Fashion

What is ‘bourgeois’ and why is the fashion world obsessed with it?

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Billie Bhatia
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’Bourgeois’ is undoubtedly the biggest trend for the autumn/winter season, but what exactly does it mean and how do you wear it? 

“That’s so bourgeois.” You could be forgiven for thinking the lexicon being bandied about the a/w 2019 fashion shows was a misheard Mean Girls soundbite. In fact, at one point the Stylist fashion team heard it so many times we were convinced there was a new ‘it’ Parisian restaurant we were missing out on. But no – rather, it’s the trend on everyone’s radar. 

In a fashion climate where we have been so accustomed to obvious trends – neon! Animal print! Bum-bags! Cycling shorts! (Insert other shouty trend that warrants an exclamation mark!) – subtle bourgeois has come as a surprise. Think of it as sartorial sobriety.

Bourgeois: Celine's autumn/winter show was the catalyst to the trend.
Bourgeois: Celine's autumn/winter show was the catalyst to the trend.

At its core, bourgeois is a palate cleanser from our glutinous wardrobes of showstopping pieces and statement looks. So, what exactly is it? The root of the word in its true French origin comes from ‘bourgeoisie’: “Belonging to or characteristic of the middle class, typically with reference to its perceived materialistic values or conventional attitudes” is the dictionary definition. Bourgeois fashion at the height of its popularity in the 70s was a prescribed list of pieces, worn in a specific way and with a particular mindset. Think Catherine Deneuve in Belle De Jour and you’re on the right track. But that was then.

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What this trend means now is clothing that is grown-up but not old, a look that is considered but not prescribed and an overall feeling of feminine dressing but not ladylike. New bourgeois is not the Sloaney country club dweller you might imagine, dressed in tweed and smelling a lot like West London, but rather, the ‘done’ yet unnervingly cool French woman that we forever strive to be.

Bourgeois: Dior brings a sense of glamour to bourgeois..

Now comes the really good news: you already own a lot of this trend. The foundations of bourgeois are the classic pieces you’re always told to invest in: tailored trousers, heavy-duty blazers – wool-mix is peak bourgeois – crepe pussy-bow blouses, leather knee-high boots, long-sleeve midi dresses (preferably both printed and plain), and midi pleated skirts (strictly no minis here). The key difference this time is those pieces have had an injection of personality.

Bourgeois 2.0 sees the staples and raises them from flat to fabulous with just a few tweaks, as seen on the catwalks. Celine was the real catalyst, serving up none other than 59 looks of new bourgeois at its a/w 2019 show. The hemlines of pleated, heritage-checked skirts overlapped with sensual over-the-knee leather boots, scarves were tied in exaggerated pussy bows (in an almost mocking way) and even the most demure of looks were seemingly undone with shaggy haircuts and oversized aviator sunglasses.

At Burberry, bourgeois was treated to a glamorous edge: a long-line masculine coat reimagined with cascading feathers and a pleated midi skirt scattered with sequins. Fendi relaxed the trend via sporty-looking tailored trousers paired with razor-sharp shirting, and Victoria Beckham opted for a subversive take on the trend with flashes of bright colour contrasted with a typically muted bourgeois palette and peep-toe leopard print booties worn with checked skirts and Argyle knits. 

Bourgeois: Burberry delivered grown-up dressing.
Bourgeois: Burberry delivered grown-up dressing.
Bourgeois: Fendi brings an element of sport to bourgeois.
Bourgeois: Fendi brings an element of sport to bourgeois.
Bourgeois: Victoria Beckham does subversive bourgeois.
Bourgeois: Victoria Beckham does subversive bourgeois.

What was previously reserved for the most staunch rule-makers is about to be embraced by the chicest rule-breakers. We bring you the building blocks for the biggest trend in town…

The sleek blouse 

Add a fluid element to the look with a high-neck or pussy-bow blouse à la Celine. It’ll lend drama to an office outfit and finesse to a pair of jeans. 

The pleated skirt 

The skirt of the moment – the trusty pleated midi – has had a sophisticated overhaul. Try it in leather, with belt detailing or an irregular hemline for a contemporary take on the trend. 

The modest mini 

This season’s dresses come in floaty fits or sculptured shapes; just keep the sleeves long and the length well below the knee

The high waist trouser 

Go wide and high with tailored trousers for casual impact. Tuck in your blouse or a thin cardigan for a sophisticated silhouette. 

The hardy blazer 

Look for a combination of dense wool and structured shapes. Nip in your waist with a belt for extra style points

The knee high boot 

It’s the season of the no-slouch boot so opt for rigid leather. Allow your skirt hemline to cover the top of the boot or tuck trousers in for a polished finish. 

Images: Getty / Courtesy of brands 

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