The Spring 2023 Trends Reflect the World Around Us 

Looks by Saint Laurent, Dries Van Noten, Louis Vuitton. Loewe, and Bottega Veneta.Photos:

With its cameo appearances and celebrity controversy, the spring 2023 ready-to-wear season produced one viral moment after another. Scrollers are gonna scroll, after all. For lasting impact, however, it’s better to look at the clothes that reflect current events. The fight for women’s rights, war, and the environment are dominating the headlines and the best collections reacted to this state of disquietude in a number of ways.

A sense of undoneness was pervasive, and communicated through asymmetric cuts (see all the half skirts) and through distressed and wrinkled fabrics that had the appearance of wear and age. Preparedness is key in the face of unrest, so utilitarian details in the form of hands-free cargo pockets and parachute straps showed up in many collections. Some designers took things a step further, creating defensive armor of sorts for those with the fighting spirit.

Softening the mood were tactile materials, including floaty feathers, crinkly tinsel, and downy fabric that brought the hand into play. The most intriguing clothes connected to the world of the senses. Also keeping things down to earth were designers’ focus on garments that function in a new world of work through minimalist tailoring and endless variations on the crisp button-down shirt.

The body remains in focus for spring, and while the tidal wave of Y2K references with its “Flesh for Fantasy” aesthetic, hasn’t fully receded, the revealing, but more covered draped goddess dress offered a more grown-up and elegant alternative. (The timing is right too, a Madame Grès exhibition is opening at SCAD in Atlanta in November.) The trailer for The Little Mermaid with Halle Bailey was released during fashion month, and designers rode that wave hard. Not only were there sexy siren looks, but surface treatments and trimmings that called to mind sea urchins and jellyfish.

Father Time was an uncredited protagonist of the spring season. It’s not only that designers are resurfacing sunken treasures from their archives, but many have gone way, way back to borrow elements of women’s clothing from the 16th to 19th centuries. Farthingales, favored by Queen Elizabeth I, and voluminous crinolines of the sort Empress Elisabeth “Sissi” of Austria would have worn walked down runways. So did panniers, the hip enhancers painted by Diego Velasquez, worn at the court of the Sun King, and which subsequently inspired the robe de style of the early 1920s. Concurrent with these historical references are clothes that free the nipple, or draw attention to the bare bosom. While seemingly polar instincts, they both speak to women taking back their power, either by recontextualizing constricting and decorative garments from a time when women’s lives were circumscribed, or by encouraging us to be comfortable in our own skin. When it comes to the empress’s new clothes, they are as nude or as covered as we want to be.

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Ready, Set, Go: Utilitarian Details for Hands-Free Living

Clothes with roomy cargo pockets, parachute straps, and extra padding keep you ready for action.

Neo-Minimalism: Streamlined Looks for Work Life 2.0

Easy tailoring and a neutral palette are the sartorial equivalent of a clean slate for a new era of work.

It’s All in the Hips: Panniers and Crinolines Make a Comeback

Recontextualizing aspects of historic dress in ways that are feminine and feminist.

Fifty Shades of Grès: A New-Old Way to Reveal the Body

Designers revisit draping using liquid jersey and transparent fabrics.

Shirt Cuts: The Classic Button-Down Is Transformed

The work staple is transformed into a not-so-basic wardrobe hero.

Stay in Touch: Enticing Textures

Raffia, tinsel, feathers, and fringe enhance the tactile aspect of clothing.

Mermaidcore: The Wet Look, Redefined

Sirens and sea creature silhouettes and textures make a splash.

Environmental Protection: Armor for Heroines

Strong looks for those on the frontlines of imaginative fashion.

All About Eve: The Female Body Laid Bare

Many spring collections seemed to support the Free the Nipple movement.

A New Slant: Half-Skirts and Jackets

Asymmetric cuts reflect uncertain times.