In spring the Vampire’s Wife’s floor-skimming floral frocks were credited by Vogue for Hollywood’s great cover-up. Legs were out – or rather they weren’t – and long, flowing, high-neck, three-quarter-sleeve maxi-dresses trailed every red carpet.
By the time Valentino sent their models down the runway in iridescent flowers, blossoms and acres of floating fabrics for their couture show, the (garden) party was well and truly in full swing.
The new coy attitude shows no sign of abating, with the appetite for the flowing, floral “chastity frock” gathering pace, with seemingly every celebrity – Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller and Alexa Chung are among the converts – photographed in garden-party dresses. Kate Middleton, fittingly, gave the trend the royal seal of approval at the Chelsea Flower Show, in a flowing Erdem dress with a navy-and-cream floral print and stylishly high neckline.
Pretty, romantic and prim, the Laura Ashley look is back. But this time around it’s not all dainty prints and virginal pastels, there are also plenty of blowsy blooms for the hot-blooded among us, just look at the dresses from Monki. Think “roguish garden party frock”, as the New York Times put it, with a hint of sensuality smouldering beneath those ruffles.
“Although it’s linked to the demure trend, you can still be playful and fun and flouncy and at the same time you’re not showing a lot of flesh,” says Lucy Yeomans, creator and founder of a new fashion tech venture and former editor of Porter. “On a practical level it’s absurdly flattering and easy. It’s one of those great pieces for when you are not quite sure of the dress code, because you’ll never feel over- or under-dressed in it.’
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a statement piece that’s been taken up quite so enthusiastically. There is something for everyone, of any age, from the high-necked elegance of the Vampire’s Wife’s Dragonfly Dress with its aristocratic lines and equally aristocratic price point, through to the affordable, languid summer’s day saviours like Topshop’s belted white day dress. There is no call for Love Islandtoned thighs, excruciating heels or a tan when you’re swathed from neck to calf in acres of flowing fabric. This is why these maxi-gowns feel surprisingly, gloriously liberating.
Practicalities aside, the real joy of these dresses lies in their power to change the mood, to carry us on their billowing petals to a happier, more exotic place. “It’s like fashion dopamine, it’s this instant hit,” says Yeomans. “You put it on and suddenly you’re the Saint Laurent girl, in the 70s, floating around Marrakech. It’s as if you’re stepping into another character.”