It can feel like an immutable law of fashion physics that the hotter the temperature, the smaller the outfit. But back in May, we alerted you to the rise of modesty dressing on the catwalks, and now, even as the mercury rises, fashion-forward customers are turning their (covered-up) backs on get-it-all-out outfits for ones that involve more fabric and less flesh-flashing. That’s right – this summer, we’re covering up rather than stripping off.
High-necked, long-sleeved, full-length dresses are having their moment in the sun, with roomier cuts replacing second-skin silhouettes and opaque fabrics favoured over sheer ones.
It’s a celebration of the lost art of leaving something to the imagination and a deliberate de-Kardashianisation of our wardrobes.
On the silver screen, Sofia Coppola’s latest film, The Beguiled, offers a masterclass in the new modesty. A gothic, tension-laden thriller set in a girls’ boarding school in the American
South during the Civil War, it’s stuffed with the kind of pieces we want to be wearing right now: dusky floral-strewn dresses, dreamy lace nightgowns, pie-crust blouses and full skirts that risk stealing the spotlight from Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst. It might be set in 1864, but the balance of the sweet aesthetic with the suggestion of something sinister and sexy simmering under the surface is thoroughly modern and utterly seductive.
Away from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, it resonates in the real world, too. ‘We’re seeing many global customers investing in longer hemlines, looser silhouettes and more relaxed, oversized styles,’ says Matches’ buying director Natalie Kingham. ‘Our new-season buy reflects this movement, embracing feminine, luxurious pieces that are more covered up.’
But how do you translate these dreamy dresses for the daily grind, and make them feel fresh rather than frumpy? It’s all about adding a slightly ‘off’ or unexpected element. Take The Beguiled’s own Elle Fanning, who subtly countered the prettiness of her milkmaid-style Alexander McQueen frock with fierce black heels at Cannes. Ditto co-star Kirsten Dunst, who opted for a white, eyelet-strewn Loewe midi – its austere silhouette tempered by suggestive flashes of skin. Or look to Doutzen Kroes, who opted for a modest pink Miu Miu frock for the label’s Resort show in a scorching Paris and exemplified no-sweat elegance at its best.
A more buttoned-up approach to getting dressed runs the risk of sounding a little dull, but it’s oddly liberating. As Shrimps’ Hannah Weiland – another fan of an oversized dress – puts it, ‘Feeling comfortable is really important.
If the fabric is soft against my skin, and the shape means you can eat and drink whatever you like, then I’m happy.’ In other words, if you’ve got it, you don’t need to flaunt it – how modern is that?
Shop our edit of modest summer dresses below: