How feel-good fashion became the ultimate trend of 2019

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Stylist Team
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From Tomo Koizumi’s puffball dresses to Moschino’s kitsch designs, feel good looks were all over the catwalks. Three writers explore the positive power of fashion.

From Tomo Koizumi’s puffball dresses to Moschino’s kitsch designs, feel good looks were all over the catwalks. Three writers explore the positive power of fashion.

“Cheerful clothing is a sensible response to a crazy world”, writes journalist Victoria Moss.

The shocking pinks, reds and yellows beaming out from the catwalks this season are a flashy contrast to the usual sludgy, dark hues of winter. There’s a new incoming fashion mood and it’s big, brash and induces pure joy.

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At Max Mara there was head-to-toe turquoise, bolts of blue and canary yellow. Victoria Beckham made heady use of red, with a pillar-box shade for knee-high boots, coats and pencil skirts. Valentino blended the house’s signature red with Schiaparelli pink and showed orange cocoon coats with sprouting feathers and sheer, neon tulle gowns.

Colour is key, but so is a sense of wonder and, perhaps, bemusement. Stella McCartney fashioned décolleté-grazing green earrings out of paperclips, Balenciaga turned your nana’s dressing gown into a style statement, and Christopher Kane brought back enough pink satin to outfit a party of 80s Sloanes. While some of this might not be to your choosing (we know, black is still good) there is something tempting about all this extra-ness.

Statement shapes and bright colours, or Christopher Kane's combination of both, are back.

If what we chose to wear didn’t affect our mood, I’d wager that Britain’s £32billion fashion industry would be obsolete. Emotional impact can’t be recreated by any marketing campaign, however brilliant. Every choice we make over our clothes has an effect. A bad fit or uncomfortable fabric will irritate and niggle all day. Your favourite clothes, whether a tracksuit or a ball gown, bring that (all-too elusive) warm feeling; a sense of calm; the ability to exist comfortably in the world.

Our clothes can provide a dopamine hit. It can come from anything: a great pair of jeans, a spiked silver heel, a novelty handbag. It’s about feeling like the most accurate and actualised version of yourself. Jenny Lister, co-curator of the V&A’s Mary Quant retrospective, explains: “Wearing clothes [that make you feel good] is empowering, achieving the balance of self-expression and practicality that works for a particular situation. Colour and pattern can be uplifting and they have a psychological effect both on the wearer and other people.”

Mary Katrantzou, the designer who’s never met a bold colour combination she didn’t like, describes her clothes as a “tool of happiness and wellness”, asserting that “colours play a very important role in creating garments that make the wearer feel confident and uplifted and also put a smile on their face”.

There is, of course, a cultural resonance to what we wear. Fashion, and the ways in which we use it, can offer insight into a moment in our collective history. There were utility styles and a make-do-and-mend culture during rationing. The mini skirt coincided with the rise of women’s sexual liberation. “Mary Quant called it the most ‘optimistic, look-at-me, isn’t-life-wonderful fashion’ ever devised,” says Lister. “It certainly gave women physical freedom, reflecting the relaxing attitudes to sexuality at the time.”

Mary Quant
Mary Quant's designs defined an era of fashion.

Given the social and political turmoil across the world, on the surface, fashion’s current preoccupation with lightness and vivacity may seem contrary. Are we wearing (non-recyclable) sequins while Rome burns?

But dressing exuberantly has long been the default move of the oppressed and rebellious. There is a subversiveness and provocation to attention-garnering dressing, whether that’s flappers dancing the night away without corsets in the 20s; the coloured mohicans and studded leather of punks; the brash and brightly coloured brilliance of Salt-N-Pepa turning up the femininity of hip-hop in the 80s; or the downbeat style of 90s grunge, defiant against the groundswell of Bushera capitalism. Now, it is a harnessing of style as a joyous push against a dour mainstream.

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Michael Halpern, a designer of sequin drenched party pieces, agrees with this way of framing his work. “This is the whole reason I do what I do,” he says. “I was studying for my MA at Central Saint Martins when Donald Trump was elected, which is still a huge, devastating blow to everyone who has a conscience. Brexit was happening. Things were getting bizarrely conservative. My collections have always been glitzy, loud, feminine and colourful, which are all important things to me. But at the core it’s about escapism. It’s fighting gloom with glamour and standing up in a way that feels like a protest.”

That power of positivity is what happy fashion is all about: equip yourself with clothes that get you noticed, then use your air wisely. It’s the way Billie Eilish bats away retrograde narratives of what a teen popstar should be by opting for Chanel board shorts and a hoodie. It’s how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez riles against the status quo in a hot pink power suit. And perhaps it’s something you’ll harness yourself this season. Just make sure you colour-fast your wash.

“There are no fashion rules any more, and it’s brilliant”, writes Stylist’s fashion news editor, Billie Bhatia.

Paris Couture Fashion Week is the industry’s most rarefied event, and over the past three years it has transformed from a serious business to a truly joyful moment in the sartorial calendar. But, for many, it’s not about what’s happening on the catwalks any more. It is front row regular Celine Dion’s mismatched, avant-garde, downright wild wardrobe that brings the biggest smiles to our faces and warms the cockles of our previously minimalist hearts.

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Why? Because she doesn’t give two Hermès bags whether you like her ensembles or not. Dion doesn’t concern herself with ‘age-appropriate’ dressing. One of her 2019 outfits lacked a bottom half entirely. To the stylish eye, she is not cool, considered or chic, but her joie de vivre gazumps all of those things because she’s having fun.

And it’s not just CD who’s enjoying herself. These days, it feels like the good-taste rule book has been thrown so far out of the window that it’s in the recycling centre two miles down the road. But doesn’t that feel great? To laugh in the face of these rules, the rules that have governed our wardrobes and our bodies for so long. Thou shalt not wear stripes if thou possesses a slight curvature to thy body. Thou art a miserable sinner, for it is immodest to exhibit 50-year-old knees. The Church of Fashion decrees it a disgrace to dress in denim cut-offs and have a booty. The list of must-avoids is lengthy. And it is exhausting.

Celine Dion Paris Couture Fashion Week
Celine Dion's couture looks were fearless and fabulous.

However, there are those singing from the same hymn sheet as Dion who are shattering those rules into tiny, irrelevant pieces. And they are having so much fun doing it that you can’t help but want to throw caution to the wind and join in.

Take the 2019 Met Gala, usually the year’s most coveted invitation for any keeper of good taste. The theme was camp, based on Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay Notes On “Camp”. This year, the guests who truly shone on the red carpet (in every sense of the word, as camera flashes reflected off sequins and lamé) were the ones who embraced the theme of camp to such a degree that they looked ludicrously brilliant. Men wore dresses, women over the age of 50 wore leotards, plus-size women wore thigh-high splits, and they all looked positively giddy doing it.

Katy Perry Met Gala 2019
Katy Perry's Met Gala 2019 looks took the theme to a whole new level.

So emphatic was their punch to the face of good taste that those who did try to temper their looks, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Penélope Cruz and Gisele Bündchen, were the ones who stuck out. One brilliant moment was the entrance of performer Billy Porter, who wore a gold sequinned unitard with giant wings and was carried in on an Ancient Egyptian-style litter borne by six bare-chested men. Even in the years with less flamboyant themes, the Met Gala is a bolder space than most red carpets, but this wasn’t just throwing the rule book away – this was stomping on it, tearing out the pages and dousing it in something highly flammable.

Lady Gaga Met 2019
Lady Gaga and Billy Porter arguably made the most memorable entrances.

But what happens when you take this no-holds-barred approach outside of your safe spaces? Well, Porter showed us just that at the Oscars (where the dress code is much more conservative). He chose neither a gown nor a tuxedo, but a combination of the two. Why? Because the mood for 2019 is being your own muse, unapologetically. You are the reason to get dressed up. You, and your life, are the Oscars and the Met Gala and Paris Couture Week all rolled into one.

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Right now, no one is more of an advocate for being themselves than Lizzo. The flute-playing singer and rapper has captured our hearts with her wild wardrobe and even wilder dance moves.

Lizzo has been handed the plus-size woman manifesto and ignored it. I know those commandments all too well, and I know they say that only the skin not prone to cellulite must be shown (shoulders and shins, basically), that loose-fitting clothes are a must, that you should not entertain material that clings, that under no circumstances should you draw attention to your midriff.

Lizzo’s sartorial repertoire includes hot pants, cone-shaped bralettes and crystal one-pieces with fishnet tights. With one swift slam dunk, the rule book was binned. Instead, she wears clothes that make her happy, ones that allow her to be the official poster girl for ‘living your best life’.

Hot pants and fishnets are a staple of Lizzo's wardrobe.
Hot pants and fishnets are a staple of Lizzo's wardrobe.

The reality is, we might not be wearing swathes of tulle to work, or sporting hot pants to dinner, but the idea of deviating from the norm is something we must hold on to. Wrapping our bodies in clothes that make us happy regardless of whether they evoke the same emotion in others is the point we’ve come to. And that’s the joy of fashion: we have the tools to become our own muses, the heroes of our own stories, and it’s time we started celebrating that.

“Dressing up every day makes me feel joyous and alive”, writes influencer Katie Monster.

My clothes, they’re my thing. Some people like to buy cosmetics or expensive cars, but I like to buy clothes. I love dressing up. It makes me feel joyous and alive. I don’t get dressed up just for special occasions – dressing nicely is for every day, for every time. The way I dress is different, but I’m not ashamed; I really don’t care what other people think. I really mean that.

I’m known for wearing double bows stacked up on the front of my bun. Some people must look at me and think I’m bonkers to do my hair like this, but I like it. I’m quite happy to wear a full-on fashion look, say head-to-toe Comme Des Garçons, for a very average day. I’ll get on the bus and just do normal things like other people do. Why should anyone care? All of us are equal people.

I’ve never dressed up just for Instagram or any other social media, either. That isn’t real and this is the way I’ve always been. Although I have to admit, Instagram does make dressing up more fun. We are living in a social media world now, so it is good to be able to open up your phone and share your ideas about beautiful clothes with other people who think like you and who appreciate what you’re doing.

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I was born in London, but I did all my growing up in Bangkok. It doesn’t matter what terms you use to define yourself – plus-size, fuller-figured – if that’s you in Bangkok, it’s very difficult to find clothes.

I mean, you can find clothes, but not clothes to express yourself in, not clothes that relate to fashion. It’s a different culture and the majority of eastern Asian people are tiny. If you go into a department store, it would be rare to even see shoes in a size bigger than a 40 [UK size 6ó]. Most girls in Bangkok are around a dress size 6 or 8.

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Can you imagine me, a size 14, growing up among tiny little beautiful girlfriends? It was such a hard time for me, as a plus-size girl, but also as a plus-size girl with a really strong interest in fashion. What could I do? How could I still indulge in fashion? Well, instead of buying clothes, I spent my time in bookstores and saved up my money to buy fashion magazines: Vogue and i-D and Self Service.

But the magazines weren’t enough, they weren’t an outlet for my passion – quite the opposite, they just made it stronger. I started making clothes for myself. I went to the flea market every week, bought vintage T-shirts in generous sizes and started to cut and customise them into different shapes. It felt so good to finally have something I actually liked wearing.

I started making clothes for my sister. Then people started wanting to buy my customised clothes and that was how I made it into the fashion world I’d always loved. That was the beginning of everything. I’ve worked in the industry ever since and make every penny of my living from clothes. I’ve become a creative consultant, an art director, a stylist and a fashion writer. I really cannot imagine myself being happy doing something else: it’s nothing but fashion for me.

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I take my inspiration from people, the people I meet every day on the street, in a bookstore, on the bus, or sitting in a cafe. Many people take inspiration from reading, but for me, watching people is learning. Sometimes you don’t even need to talk to them. You just watch. I don’t judge people from the outset.

Colour is very important. Silhouettes, too. That’s how I select my own clothes. I like mixing and matching things but I also like wearing a ‘total look’. Being experimental is the key: if you’ve never tried it then you’ll never know, and having fun with what you’re wearing is the best thing. It’s always a new adventure for me, exploring what goes with what. When an outfit turns out well, that’s properly fun. I hope my clothes make other people happy too – that when they see me, they smile.

People have asked me many times about the rules of style, or about how I get dressed, but (and I know I sound like a cliché here) I always say that I have no rules. Because it’s true. I would wear anything that I don’t think looks bad. When you wear something you love, you feel comfortable, and that’s happiness.

For me, fashion is meant to be fun. If you think too much, it’s kind of boring. Last week, I was doing an interview for a local magazine in Bangkok and they asked me, “What is your style?” Well, I could answer that question straight away. I have none! I have no style at all. I hate having to describe myself as just one thing, or having to put myself in just one category. Some people will look at me and think, ‘Her look is definitely more-is-more’. But I don’t want more. I just want different.

Photography: Dennis Pedersen

Images: Getty images, Instagram