Fashion is cyclical – that is a truth that is as imposing as the Palace of Versailles itself. Even the craziest fashion trends, that we thought had been left behind, tend to remain in the collective imagination return to reign over the style world just every so often. And that’s exactly what has happened with the pannier – yes, the 17th and 18th century century hoop skirt undergarment – which has slowly but surely begun to spread its fabric wings over the collections of some of the most renowned fashion houses and into the wardrobes of such stars as Selena Gomez and Camila Cabello.
Crinoline, side-hoop, pannier or farthingale. Whatever name you know this skirt-volumizing apparatus by, the style that has returned leaves the front and back of the silhouette relatively flat, lending all the curve to the hips.
You'll recognize them from portraits of Marie Antoinette, inVelasquez’s painting Las Meninas or from one of the various movies set during the era such as Dangerous Liaisons, which won the Oscar for Best Costume Design in 1989, as did Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette in 2007. They've also been featured in performances like Madonna's on the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards, which in turn inspired Camila's performance of her single Cry for Me on Saturday Night Live.
It's likely that the pompous and wildly exaggerated character of the pannier is what has prevented it from re-entering the fashion world as one of the more wearable trends. Its charm had been left confined to the realms of the performing arts – that is, until now.
Designer Clare Waight Keller of Givenchy – a favorite of Meghan Markle’s – had already alerted us to the return of this trend by exploring the idea of historic skirts with flared sides in general, transforming them into more restrained versions for a decidedly more modern take on this historic fashion; a version so current that Selena couldn’t resist, wearing it exactly as it appeared on the runway.
It wasn't long before we were seeing it in the Spring/Summer 2020 ready-to-wear brand proposals, with designs such as the one from Loewe, very much in line with the Givenchy vibe. Thom Browne, through his highly-sculpted personalized, theatrical tailoring, complemented the style with yet more Versailles-inspired elements such as ornate rococo details.
While Comme des Garçons also explored this aesthetic, it was British brand pushBUTTON that presented the most down-to-earth proposal: a curve-sided blazer that's somewhere between a bar jacket and a peplum.
While the lavish nature of the pannier skirt might mean it might take up too much space on your local off-the-the-rack stores, the spirit can be seen in voluminous paper-bag waisted skirts with bubble hems at shops like Zara.
And we’ll definitely be seeing the style on the red carpet. You only have to look at the Atelier Versace dress with the skirt flared at the sides worn by Cynthia Erivo at the Oscars, a trend simultaneously confirmed by the Fall/Winter 2020/2021 collections at New York Fashion Week, which featured proposals by Christian Siriano, Area, and the ever more noteworthy Christopher John Rogers, winner of the 2019 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.