Remember back at the spring collections at New York Fashion Week in September, when Marc Jacobs sent a fashion army down the runway, and his entire collection riffed on (and elevated) the humble olive drab military uniform of the everyman (and woman) with candy-like jeweled cabochons, overgrown cargo pockets and lace details?
Well, that trend is reverberating on the fall 2015 runways big time now, with designers putting their own spins on uniforms and other utility clothes, beginning with Luella Bartley and Katie Hillier at Jacobs' own less expensive label, Marc by Marc Jacobs.
At the Marc by Marc show on Tuesday afternoon, out came models as rebel youth. Marching onto a grass runway to Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," they wore studded berets on their heads and studded combat boots on their feet.
They wore social action on their sleeves (words like "solidarity" and "choice" on graphic tees and dresses) , along with army green floral printed jackets, long pleather skirts and destroyed moto jeans. And they carried "tool box" bags in their hands.
Was it another example of the Establishment trying to cash in on anti-Establishment sentiment, and appeal to millennials who care more about social responsibility and inconspicuous consumption than the newest trend? Maybe. But unlike at Chanel in October in Paris, which was a runway show dressed up as a protest, with picket signs scrawled with pro-feminist slogans, the Marc by Marc version was about a more abstract rebel spirit, be it punk, biker, hippie, rapper or club kid. The message was that you can have both style and substance.
The show ended with "Instant Karma," John Lennon's relentlessly positive message for the future of humanity. And really, who wouldn't want to buy into that?
Other designers keyed into the trend of fashion utility in different ways. Philip Lim gave the look a grunge spin. He turned the ubiquitous street wear staple, the plaid flannel shirt, into an asymmetrical skirt, a drapey trench coat and a flight suit. He showed glossy, fitted leather jackets, paratrooper pants and sexy lace-up booties, as well as spidery knits and silk charmeuse slip dresses worked with patches of destroyed lace.
But some pieces were so loaded down with doodads -- chest straps, back straps, suspenders and more -- they just looked tricky.
At Rag and Bone, designers Marcus Wainwright and David Neville tried to dress up nylon flight jackets, zip-front skirts, track pants and quilted vests by layering lace-edged satin slips and camisoles on top. Maybe they thought the underwear-as-outerwear shtick would tap into some of the 1990s nostalgia that's in the air. But there just wasn't enough to the collection.
Vera Wang wasn't so besotted with utility gear so much as she was channeling a more austere glamour, which also happens to be a throwback to the 1990s, and is similar to the Carolyn Besette-inspired simple chic that permeated Wes Gordon's fall outing.
Wang's nearly all-black collection featured aggressively simple bustier tops, long bubble skirts and wrinkly silk faille gowns, embellished only with web strap belts, discreet corset lacing or hook-and-eye closures. And there was at least one baggy pants suit that would be its own kind of chic uniform.
What is motivating this more casual, uniform approach to getting dressed is something to ponder. Is it a reaction against the fashion takeover of pop culture? A revolt against the outfit-a-minute Instagram style star mentality? An urge to streamline and simplify? Or merely a throwback to the minimal, anti-fashion fashion of 1990s? Probably all of the above.