I can’t say for sure how many days I have been thinking about it, but recently, I have been thinking a lot about prints. I suppose it is the natural outcome of poring over images of spring and fall trends which have saturated my eyes with a print revival: gingham, floral, bohemian, 60s Mod, and 70s Ziggy Stardust. Prints used to belong to other decades, evoking powerful images of times gone by, but now they are unmistakably contemporary, worn as they are in a modern world where more and more people don’t have to get dressed or even leave the house to go to work.
In discussions about prints with people I know, I’ve observed some strong reactions that fall into the category of love it or leave it. For some, prints evoke a nostalgia for the glamour of past generations, serving to enrich the wearer. For others, prints are associated with heaviness, succeeding only in weighing down the wearer under a riot of color and patterns. In thinking over the question of prints, I keep coming back to one of the Italian words for pattern- fantasia– a word that anchors prints to the realm of dream or make-believe. Could wearing prints make you somehow less serious or realistic than someone who wears neutral solid colors?
Although I am no expert at summing up my style in two or three easy words, I have an image of myself as having a playful, classic look, with a wardrobe based on subdued pieces. And so, over the weekend I was stunned, when, while seeing my hairdresser, I heard myself singled out as a print wearer. I had never before regarded my wardrobe as welcoming of print, nor had I ever realized just how much print I actually wear until my hairdresser, a young man in his twenties, made the observation. Though recently I had gone so far as to try on various tops in gingham and floral, I hadn’t dared cross the line into actual ownership. But here was someone who had known me for several years and who saw me in a way I could not or would not see myself.
After returning home from my appointment, I looked for evidence of my excess, and there it was, plainly on display in my closet: the many brightly colored and patterned vintage blouses worn happily over the years, the recent acquisition of striped shirts, floral pants, the checked blue and white Balenciaga knit bought on sale three years ago, the 80s fuchsia and green floral dress purchased last year, the vintage Ungaro black and white plaid jacket, the multicolored vintage Missoni knit jacket, the tweed suit I got married in in 2000. Why had I refused to acknowledge my affinity with prints?
In the 1990s, minimalism ruled in fashion casting a shadow over the extravagance of 1980s’ shapes and patterns. After graduating from college in the early nineties, I got the message that standing out in a print could hamper one’s chances of being taken seriously in the professional world. Bold prints and exuberant colors suggested the free spirited unruliness of the wearer. And so, in an attempt to blend in, I hid my love of prints and embellishment in a restrained wardrobe full of brown, black, gray, and navy solids.
I have to laugh now when I think about how unaware I was of this attempt at disguise that apparently fooled no one but myself. What makes the return of prints so attractive to me today, is that it is unmistakably modern for both women and men to wear fanciful dress without the risk of being tagged unprofessional. At last, in my middle years, I’m at peace with my youthful attraction to fantasia and all that it connotes.