White lies and a white wedding, how the colour white took on politics and love Advertisement

White lies and a white wedding, how the colour white took on politics and love

From Meghan Markle to Melania Trump, the colour white has become a symbol of hope and fake news

By Kenya Hunt  May 22nd, 2018

I’ve never been one for a Steve Jobs or Fran Lebowitz-style uniform. But if I ever get bored of trying to figure out what to wear, I know exactly what my formula will be: a white T-shirt and white denim. And for the months when it’s cold, an oversized men’s button-down, in the same colour, to go on top.

Christian Dior SS18

Christian Dior SS18

After a year of big colour stories on and off the runway — The Handmaid’s Tale red! Pantone’s special Prince tribute purple! That Seventies throwback yellow! — there’s something comforting in fashion’s return to white.

Throughout the resort and SS18 shows, designers made a case for head-to-toe ivory dressing. It’s the ultimate blank slate, and there’s nothing like the approach of December to make a person take stock of what’s worth keeping and what needs throwing out – in every area of life. But this is an article about clothes, and white womenswear promises to be one of the year’s biggest ideas, especially when worn as one big block of (absent) colour.

Celine SS18 White

Celine SS18

White-on-white feels like the fashion equivalent of a reboot. There’s something inherently energising about a detox, which white often implies. We’re approaching the season of end-of-year wardrobe clear-outs in the interest of new beginnings. But how refreshing is the idea of a different kind of clean slate altogether, one that requires paring back the colours and bells and whistles in favour of something simpler? Very, according to Ida Petersson, buying director at Browns: “A lot of designers have change and progress on their minds, which we’ve seen translate into the collections. And white is a palette cleanser – a particularly beautiful one, in my opinion.”

Christian Dior SS18 

Christian Dior SS18

On the runways, the moment gained steam during the cruise season, when white began appearing at Givenchy, Off-White, Christian Dior and a slew of others. The newness here was the idea of wearing white all year round, long after summer was over. After percolating throughout the cruise shows, white emerged as the shade of choice for SS18, too. This included the Victorian-influenced tulle and silk dresses at Simone Rocha, Oscar de la Renta’s vaguely Eighties-inspired ivory double denim and Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi’s light, airy dresses and separates at Preen, where the colour had symbolic meaning. 

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“We were drawn to the strength of purity and the clean message white gives; to us, it’s control and power,” Justin explained. “We chose mostly white Irish linens that were washed to give that soft, crushed sense of comfort that is so important in our designs.”

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It’s a decadent concept, really: pristine head-to-toe ivory in winter – the season of rain, sleet and snow. See Rihanna, a long-time proponent of the look, earning millions of likes on Instagram last month when she wore a hoodie the colour of alabaster with matching jeans and stiletto, Off-White boots. Head-to-toe white is also the easiest styling trick out there, a fact Ida attests to: “In contrast to popular opinion, it can actually be extremely flattering. It highlights rather than obscures as with a nice tailored white suit or a beautiful white dress with a coat. I’m a massive fan of the tonal look. The impact is sharper.”

Celine Dion at The 71st Annual Academy Awards2

Celine Dion at The 71st Annual Academy Awards

It’s also a foolproof way to look polished (Google a 1972-era Bianca Jagger, cool as ice in a trouser suit), stand out (Céline Dion at the 1999 Academy Awards) and communicate power (Hillary Clinton, channelling the spirit of the suffragettes, in ivory tailoring at Donald Trump’s inauguration).

Bianca Jagger and her daughter Jade in London

Bianca Jagger and her daughter Jade in London, May 4, 1979.

Along the lines of this last option, white has also taken on a special power all of its own in the turbulent political climate. For some, it’s the colour of resistance. In Cuba, for example, the famous Ladies in White wear it as an act of protest against the imprisonment of their political dissident husbands and brothers. Attending Mass each Sunday while dressed in a coordinating palette, the human rights activists then march through the streets, silently, using nothing more than their clothes as a symbol of opposition.

Similarly, the white T-shirt has been the canvas to many a protest slogan, from the days of Katharine Hamnett’s tees emblazoned with bold statements in Helvetica Roman to Maria Grazia Chiuri’s updated “We Should All Be Feminists” version for Christian Dior.

Preen by Thornton Bregazzi Ready to Wear SpringSummer 2018 

At Preen, the feminism underpinning those easy linen separates was clear. “We took inspiration from the persecution of women in faiths, and in particular the Puritan culture of the 1880s. It was to really hit home that message of pure equality that we wish for, and to remind people of the past and to think about the future,” Thea says. “We are bringing up two daughters in a world that feels less stable and equal than it was even two years ago. The fight for women’s rights still continues and is under threat.”

Victoria Beckham NY Fashion Week

Victoria Beckham walks the runway at Victoria Beckham show during New York Fashion Week 

There’s also a power in the simplicity of white, no matter what kind of statement you’re trying to make — fashion, social, political or otherwise. See the enduring allure of a classic white shirt and jeans. When Victoria Beckham wore exactly that to take her bow at the end of her spring show, it made headlines and prompted shoppers to flood her office with requests for the shirt, which is now available for sale as part of her secondary line, Victoria, Victoria Beckham. There’s a reason why the white tee transcends age, culture and geography: it works.

Victoria Beckham Spring 2018

Victoria Beckham Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 2018

And on a much lighter and purely practical note, white is simply very easy to wear in that, like black, you don’t have to think about it too much — other than the challenge of keeping it clean. (My solution is to carry a mini pack of baby wipes wherever I go. You’d be surprised how many varieties of stains a wet Huggies tissue can eradicate.)

Courtney Love

Courtney Love attends The 69th Annual Academy Awards

Your gateway to the trend is the dress: “I’m a big fan of the white lace dress worn with oversized cardigans and block-heeled boots. This interpretation of the trend has a strong Nineties feel, which feels so right this season – think Courtney Love at her best,” Ida says.

Saint Laurent2

Saint Laurent Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 2018 

Following the dress, you’ll want to consider the blouse. For spring, designers including Saint Laurent’s Anthony Vaccarello and Isabel Marant did them in cotton and lace with elaborate frills and puffed sleeves, and there are many similar versions on the high street now. On paper, it may sound too summery to consider in January, but wear with black leather, as Vaccarello did, and you’ve got a full-year-round look. The team at Matches Fashion called it ‘perfect for all-weather dressing’. Though that depends, of course, on your choice of outer- and footwear.

Kaia Gerber

Kaia Gerber walks the Isabel Marant show at Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2018 

Speaking of which, let’s not forget the finishing touch: the unfailingly popular white shoe. A trend that started six years ago at Céline has stood the test of time (and the changing whims and moods of us fashion editors) to become a modern classic. As it’s too cold for the pump, try the white boot, which is ubiquitous for a reason. “Now is a great time to invest. Dries van Noten has an amazing pair of black-heeled boots this season,” Ida says.

Meghan Markle CommonWealth 2018

Meghan Markle attends the 2018 Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey 

The great appeal of the white boot is that it matches everything and adds an instant feeling of fashion cred to a look.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to go all out by wearing a full block of white, any other colour shoe will do just as fine. Because the other beauty in ivory is that it’s incredibly adaptable. Maybe I should explore that uniform idea after all.