Flashback: it’s 2010 and you’re heading to town with your mates. Joni jeans on leg and doughnut bun on the top of your head with a million and one hair pins, you reach for your trusty pastel peplum. Corporate core never looked so cool. But skip forward to 2023, and the idea of the peplum garners nothing but winces and groans for the fashion lover. Can this hourglass-influenced silhouette ever truly be fashionable again?
According to the runways, yes it can. Now, it must be said that the peplum is no new feat for the fashion industry. In the 19th century, it was overskirts that spread to Christian Dior’s mid-century ‘New Look’, and then to the power suits for the girls of the 80s and Yves Saint Laurent and Mugler in the 90s and 00s. And whilst we may want to erase the most recent rise of the peplum in 2010, it is proving that all through time the industry has had some sort of connection to this design. Timeless? Perhaps, but each generation tends to adapt it in a different way.
This time around, however, the peplum has teased its return with exaggerated silhouettes and tubular waistlines by taking on elegance and detailed craft. And who would be at the forefront of the elegant peplum return? It could only be Richard Quinn. Granted, there is a multitude of designers delving into their experimentative waistline eras, but Quinn most definitely pips them at the post.
For his AW23 collection, Quinn experimented with ballooning proportions from the size of his signature floral prints in dainty blooms to giant rosebud fastenings that sat on the neckline. And between the sexy interspersions of latex gimp suits and floor-length cutout gowns, he taunted audiences by introducing the peplum in a discreet manner. He accentuated the hips of strapless dresses with hemlines just below the knee, leaving the effect of the waist to be cinched at the sides.
Then bam, 20 looks in, and the peplums were out in full force. An all-in-one black and white monochrome floral piece with a sweetheart neckline, satin gloves to the elbow, and a sophisticated updo was the first entry, then a bridal look with a deep cut V-line neck in a cream hue embellished with blossom followed. Nods to the peplum was scattered throughout, but what reigned supreme was the design confidence surrounding the once controversial p-word and the experimentative layering that entailed. It felt more like a dress-over-trousers situation, which alongside the skirt-over-jeans Y2K moment coming back, was the best reintroduction to high fashion the peplum could have asked for.
Paris Couture Fashion Week held some serious pep-spiration as well, from Armani Privé’s strapless shiny mesh number with a checkerboard skirt on the bottom to Viktor and Rolf’s topsy turvey tiered gowns that played with the classic princess silhouette by dropping the peplum to below the waist and hoiking it up to a small ruffle. Most notably, Robert Wun has forever presented an ode to the style, which tends to head to the red carpet on the likes of Florence Pugh, who wore a head-to-toe cherry red Wun gown to the London Critics’ Circle Film Awards earlier in February. This adaptation was a peplum at its finest, ruffled on the flair and flowing from a corset-style strapless upper half that sat over a simple straight-leg skirt.
Christopher Kane’s AW23 at London Fashion Week gave some serious peplum glam too, and dropped the waistline down the hips, with a longer torso and above-the-knee skirt. In a patent red version and butterfly print, this innovative take on the peplum should have designers taking notes on how to improve their waistline ruffles, and if they should even be on the waist in 2023.
So as the controversial peplum returns (and we aren’t actually that mad about it), it would seem the waistline accentuation is reserved for more formal wear in bridal gowns and red carpet events. And for those vying for a more relaxed option, the dress-over-trousers seem to be the perfect iteration, albeit controversial in itself. If you fancy raising some eyebrows and pissing off one or two bland fashion critics with your own take on the p-word, then the re-rise of the peplum may be the trend for you.