Why does everyone dress like a whimsical prairie milkmaid?

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Look, can we have a quick chat? Nothing to worry about. But we have to talk about your summer dress. You know the one. The long, loose perhaps with smocking or ruching on the upper part. Oh, and the hoof straps – it definitely has hoof straps. Your upper arms and thighs are covered – that’s partly why you bought it – but there might be a bare shoulder or a milkmaid square neckline that shows some cleavage. Was there a cutout piece in the back? A little bare skin, but classy, ​​you know. I think it’s gingham. But it can be flowers or light pink, or white linen.

You know which dress I mean, because even in the unlikely event it’s not in your wardrobe—yet—it’s everywhere this summer. It’s the dress your best friend wears in her vacation photos on Instagram and the dress your child’s teacher wore to the summer fair. It’s what to wear to your birthday lunch, whether you’re turning 21 or 50.

The point where sanity meets theatricality is exactly where you’ll find this summer dress

How did the puff-sleeved whimsical dress become a popular look for the woman walking to catch the train to work while checking her phone? How did we get to the point where even Nadine Dorries is moving on from vacuum-packed tailoring to embrace pastoral vibes in a cornflower blue, twiggy maxi dress with tulip sleeves, as she did recently?

This dress has taken the world by storm because, despite looking whimsical and light, it embodies two of the most seismic changes in how we think, live and therefore dress, because that’s how fashion works.

The first is the mood shift towards theatricality – life as performance art – that comes from social media and can be seen in holiday photography: falsely sincere but highly staged, a rear view of the pre-dinner stroll down a picturesque street rather than everyone grinning at the camera over a table . The puff sleeve milkmaid dress is a wardrobe department version of the summer dress.

Related: Trainers have lost their edge – throw on some loafers if you want to cut it this summer | Jess Cartner-Morley

The other change is healthiness, which used to be a bit boring and prissy, but is now ambitious and glamorous. Yoga holidays and half marathons, being flexitarian, mindfulness, not drinking for a week – this was already happening when the pandemic turbocharged our obsession with fresh air, walking and eating outdoors. Masks and social distancing made being sanitary something that should be traded. For all the predictions of a post-pandemic headlong charge into illegal sweatshops, the opposite has been true. The alfresco party, with salad platters, scallop-edged napkins and rattan lanterns, is as ambitious this decade as an expense account lunch at the Ivy was in the 1980s.
The point where sanity meets theatricality is exactly where you’ll find this dress. The mood may be sweet and gentle and breezy, but this is not a dress for pushovers. That’s why there will be oversized puff sleeves, or a dramatic painterly print, or a fancy trim of rickrack or lace—a splash of Krystle Carrington glamor to make it clear that this damsel is not in distress, and by the way, she recently sold the castle and bought a mid-century bungalow she found on Modern House (follow her Instagram stories for #renovation).

May I suggest a cabana set – shirt and matching shorts – maybe in terry towels, possibly in neon orange to really pop your social media feeds this summer? But this is the dress that has won the summer. Vibeskiftet has a uniform. And you’re probably already wearing it.

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