Tuesday, August 25, 2009

spotlight on...capris

by frédérik sisa

Of all the bifurcated garments out there, capris are my favourite. They’re wardrobe rebels, defying the categories of pants and shorts. They look good and sleek and somehow manage to always be in style. And, of course, they’re comfortable, blending the coverage of pants with the cooling factor of shorts, and versatile. They’re also great for impromptu walks on the beach - no need to clumsily roll up those pants to keep the hems from getting wet! Best of all, after years of being a warm weather fashion staple for women, they’ve gained a good deal of traction with men. (It’s a strange point of vanity that I anticipated the trend among men in North America 10 or so years ago when I first experimented with capris.)

As a matter of history, capris have sartorial precedents in breeches, knee-length men’s garments – dominant in the 18th century but with roots stretching further back - that fastened below the knee with buttons, draw string, or buckles. Check out Elijah Boardman here, rockin' those breeches (I love the jacket too):

Earlier forms of breeches included Spanish breeches, which were moderately fitted, and the looser petticoat breeches that overtook the Spanish breeches in popularity during the 1650s. Knickers (or knickerbockers), differentiated by a looser fit in the thighs, followed the breeches as we typically know them and were popular in the early 20th century, especially among golfers who wore them as “plus fours” hemmed at four inches below the knee.

Interestingly, once upon a time the wearing of breeches marked a rite of passage for young boys. Breeching represented an important step of growing up, when boys stopped wearing dresses or gowns (sometimes distinguishable from girls’ dresses depending on family wealth, although apparently at that time putting a dress on a young boy wasn’t treated as a kind of sissifying) and moved on to more adult clothing. The reason for putting very young boys in dresses, incidentally, probably had to do with potty training. Here's a Flemish boy from 1625. Note the dagger and coral teething beads:

Also interesting, in an obvious sort of way, is how breeches and knickers play into the cyclical nature of fashion trends, where men and women’s fashions influence and play off each other. After being so dominant among men’s garments, they retreated until resurrected as a predominant part of women’s fashion.

So this brings us to the 1950s, when European fashion designer Sonja de Lennart unveiled her iconic and influential (to say the least!) Capri Collection, named after her favourite island. Among the dresses and blouses was that ¾ length pant with the small slit at the hem on the outer side of the leg:

It’s a stretch, I think, to declare de Lennart the “inventor” of the capri given how capris are essentially re-styled breeches. But for our purposes, “inventor” will have to do: she revitalized cropped pants and made them an enduring part of fashion despite ebbs and flows in popularity.

Flash forward to today, where the influence of capris and breeches can still be seen both on the street and on the runways. I’ll share some thoughts on the menswear that strutted down the catwalk at the Spring/Summer 2010 show in Paris, but here are a couple images showing a definite capri influence among fashion designers:

Comme Des Garcons SS10: suit-style pants and jacket, sharp white shirt worn untucked, vine-like frills, and a beanie I find more ridiculous and lacking in class than appealing.

Junya Watanabe SS10: intriguing, attractive blend of casual and formal thanks to the memorable juxtaposition of jeans/sport jacket with a shirt/suit vest and brogues. The rolled up pant look gives a nice capri-like bit of styling.

There you have it. Now I turn it over to you, dear readers. I'd love to know how you've incorporate capris (or "manpris," clamdiggers, etc.) into your wardrobe. Please leave a comment. Or send me a picture at fsisa[at]thefrontpageonline[dot]com (replacing, of course the [at] with @ and [dot] with .) I'd love to feature readers in a future post.

1 comment:

Aqua Catlin said...

Women have to be very careful about the length of the capris. It can be flattering or super unflattering depending where they fall to so don't trust it, use your eyes! How do your calves/legs look where they're exposed from?
Also very important: Bring back breeches for men! Awesome.

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