I’m beginning to think designers — from the high end to the low end — like artists, were aware of some dark, threatening cultural shifts. The clothing offered this fall is rife with messages warning of danger, and thick with defensive, forbidding tones. This sweater is an example. It’s on offer at Macys, and comes in this bronze metallic or a lighter silver. By Belldini, it’s $31.80 on sale, reg. $78.00.
In 1851 John Everett Millias’ freakish painting of a dead Ophelia is a statement of feminine power immobilized; she’s negated by death itself. Belldini’s sweater immediately made me think of the poor, beautiful, dead Ophelia of Millais’ vision. Those pre-Raphaelites were scared to death of women, but more, saw the ways that women’s efforts at greater social power were going to be killed off — just as, one might argue, artistic, sensitive, “effeminate” painting men were a threat to the larger social structure of mid-century England.
This grey and black (also in black and ink) sweater from Style & Co. is $19.99 on sale, reg. $56.50. (The style is a knock-off of a past Phillip Lim design, which itself was knocked off by Vince and rag&bone last season.) What’s so interesting here are those lines of ribbed knit and the triangular panels sets in from the waist to the lower hemline. There’s a sense of fighting, defense, and movement. The sweater echoes the lines of quilted fencing vests — Dior’s fabulous Fall Fashion show featured fencing-inspired looks for women, and this inexpensive sweater from macy’s comes from the same cultural swirl.
Designers knew women would be facing a fight in the coming years.
Finally, another pre-Raphaelite, vaguely medieval sweater, this one from Rachel Roy Curvy Trend line, available only in 2x for $93.99.
Just to remind us all of what we already know, a generic “unicorn tapestry” google image search result ties Roy’s cardigan to a European medieval past.
Next to it is what Roy’s cardigan more obviously refers to: Indian paisley shawls popular in England in the 19th century during England’s forcible rule of the massive, extraordinarly diverse Indian population. Both patterns — the Lady encircled by protective symbolic animals (the Lady as the Country, the emblems as the forces defending that country), and the paisley swirls — are nationalistic statements of their time periods. Paisleys and vaguely “ethnic” Indo-European patterned fabrics go in and out of popularity.
This fall season, women’s sweaters are long, flared, and armed with emblems of defensive maneuvers.