Can You Wear A Peplum? (Part 1)

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Yes. And you can look good in one. Learn how to love this season’s big hit with advice from designers, stylists.

Peplum. It isn’t an easy word. As a trend, it’s even harder. In fact, this unnecessary, entirely redundant bit of fabric sewn to the waist of an otherwise ordinary dress or top is up there with neon and the bralette this spring/ summer as a one-season wonder. Except… it isn’t. In case you missed the memo, peplums are more than just a thing at the moment – they are the only thing. They have been for the past two seasons and are still around for the next, flapping away on the catwalk and high street alike. But why?

Description: Can You Wear A Peplum?

 ‘E peplum tricks the eye’, says designer Roland Mouret, who knows pretty much everything about flattering the female figure and has produced memorable peplum my numbers, including his follow-up to the Galaxy, the Titanium dress, much-loved by celebrities. ‘It is a modern way for a woman to disguise a part of the body that she might not love. For someone who doesn’t have a lot of hip, it gives you a bit more of that attitude and for someone who’s got a little stomach, it hides the situation’.

Still. I’m not buying it. I feel the same way about peplums as I do about Kate Middleton and nude tights: I can see why it happens but I don’t want to go there. Having said that, our Future Queen has worn a peplum – albeit a teeny-tiny one on an otherwise conservative grey jacket – and she’s not known for being fashion forward. Actually, it needs to be noted here that the Royals do love a peplum: there are pictures of Wallis Simpson in the 1940s and Princess Diana in the 1980s, both happily working the trend. So what excuse for the rest of us?

‘There’s something very elegant and classic in the proportions it defines’, reasons Mary Katrantzou, whose ‘lampshade’ dresses have helped establish the current idea of a dramatically structured silhouette. ‘The peplum has an almost haute-couture appeal’. Design duo Peter Pilotto agree, talking enthusiastically about the famous 1947 ‘New Look’ of Christian Dior – ‘very fitted on the waist and sticking out on the hips’ – and how they’ve reworked the idea in their own dresses, constructing peplums with an integrated corset structure to help slim the waist. ‘It is’, they add, ‘such an exciting shape!’ New Dior designer Raf Simons also agrees: he’s been exploring the idea since September 2010, when his critically-acclaimed ‘ball skirts and T-shirts’ collection for Jil Sander gave serious consideration to the peplum.

The last time peplums were this popular was the 1980s, when they were accompanied by bug shoulders. Nobody is reviving that look. We did the big shoulder back when Christophe Decarmin was at Balmain and got over it. Nor are they really about the waist (yes, we’ve recently been through that, too), though it’s worth nothing that Marks & Spencer is currently selling one of its new Waist Sculpt ‘soft wear’ corsetry pieces every three minutes. Instead, the new peplums owe a debt to Kim Kardashian, surely an unlikely style icon but one whose big bum, as us Brits would affectionately call it, has proved surprisingly influential. ‘It’s all about this Bootylicious thing that’s going on in culture right now’, confirms stylist Sophie Neophitou, who works with everyone from Antonio Berardi to Victoria’s Secret and admits to owning several peplums, including one on a black velvet top by Stella McCartney from a/w 2011 that helped kick start the trend. ‘Men adore this idea of the hourglass figure and a peplum can give you that. I’m quite curvy but actually I’d say if you get the right one, they can be very flattering and hide a multitude of sins. You have to be careful, though’, she cautions. ‘It’s not just about getting any frilly peplum and wearing it!’

Description: Can You Wear A Peplum?

Ah, this is the thing. Do you want to know I’m not convinced be the peplum? Because there are so many caveats to wear one well. Basically, proceed with caution if you have a bosom or don’t have a waist, if you have a body that’s short or hips that are voluptuous or legs that aren’t giraffe-like. In fact, to be in the safe side, beware if you are in any way lacking a thick ruffle around what is potentially your widest part seems a dubious way to diminish it.

‘It’s like alcohol’, explains Mouret. ‘Everything in moderation’. So how to do the peplum properly? ‘They can’t be too big and puffy’, emphasizes designer Justin Thornton of Preen, whose current spring/ summer collection has beautiful crepe, lace and sequin pencil skirts with a soft, flattering frill at the waistband that only require a simple T-shirt or blouse to work. ‘They need to have just the right amount of gather’, he adds, ‘and they need to be short’. Preen also produces jackets with a ruffled waist that nod to the idea of a peplum while being easy to wear with cigarette pants for a sleeker look. This is how Samantha Cameron did it at the White House – albeit with a belted Roksanda Ilincic top – and if you can work a peplum while meeting Michelle Obama, you’ve probably clinched it.

As SamCam proves, the top is probably the most straightforward way to approach this trend – the high street has embraced the idea with a great deal of enthusiasm and some skill, though choice of fabric is key here. Try to avoid stiff, unforgiving ruffles – what you want is a fluid frill. ‘When the fabric is crap, the peplum doesn’t sit properly’, says Mouret, who also advises against overly dramatic looks for day.

As a statement piece, the peplum lends itself well to red-carpet and evening dressing – but on a dress, the potential for disaster is Kardashian-sized. ‘Keep the top part simple and waisted so the focus is on the silhouette it creates’, advises Mary Katrantzou. In other words, if your dress has a peplum on it, that’s probably the only sartorial flourish you need.

I’m not going to tell you to embrace the peplum this season. I’m finding it quite hard myself. Having said that, it’s a trend that’s impossible to ignore – and one that can be done across so many price points and pieces of clothing that there is inevitably a peplum that will work for you, whatever your budget or body shape. ‘They can make you feel very glamorous indeed’, says Sophia Neophitou, encouragingly. ‘It’s just a case of finding the right one’.

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