"Go big or go home" was the message on the runways this season. Womenswear designers are ditching the idea of clothing that clings, and instead opting for clothing that flows with, hangs off, and distorts the body and its proportions—like the line-backer shoulders at Jacquemes and Vetements, or the huge billowy trousers at Issey Miyake, or the beautiful avant-garde puffer jackets at Alexander McQueen and Marques Almeida.
The most impractical display of the "go big or go home" sentiment (aside from the insanely high platforms at the Marc Jacobs show)? Extra, extra long sleeves, covering the hands. The kind of sleeves that have swallowed folks like Kanye and Rihanna.
Deliberately ill-fitting clothing means you command attention while remaining indifferent to what's considered normal. The stand-offish trend started trickling down the runways back in March 2015, when brands like Stella McCartney, The Row, and Céline put exaggerated sleeves on oversized knitwear and structured blouses. Season after season, more designers followed suit, and this Fall 2016 season was full of exaggerated, super long sleeves.
In New York, Marc Jacobs added extra length to the sleeves of his already oversized leather jackets, varsity sweaters, and shearlings. In London, Marques Almeida showed massive red gingham collared shirts and a bright yellow formless sweatshirt—with the sleeves down to the knees. In Milan, Pucci brought back their logo on a satin shirt with spacious ruched arms and extended cuffs. In Paris, Vetements showed extra-long sleeves on everything—frilly floral dresses, tartan button-ups, flight jackets, cheeky sweatshirts and T-shirts with phrases like "You Fuckin' Asshole."
The extra-long sleeves trend is more of a revived statement than a new one, with many designers taking cues from the most buzzed-about Paris-based brand, Vetements. Demna Gvasalia and his collective of anonymous designers play with proportions on everyday staples with the motto of "making clothes people actually want to wear."
The fashion line Vetements— French for clothing—debuted its first collection at Paris Fashion Week in March 2014. But the label started to get noticed when the designs got very '90s grunge, more ill-proportioned, and slouchier: Sweatshirts and sweatpants inspired by Thrasher and Champion, MA-1 flight jackets, and T-shirts paying homage to Leonardo Dicaprio in Titanic—all with ridiculously long sleeves.
Vetements has been undeniably influenced by Belgian designer Martin Margiela's iconic brand Maison Margiela, where Gvasalia worked from 2009-2013. He reiterates designs from the Margiela archives and takes inspiration from its design aesthetic in the '90s and early '00s. Vetements' can't text back sleeves and slanted over-the-knee boots mirror Margiela's 1992 collections, while the giant T-shirts, leather jackets, and topcoats mirror the Fall 2000 and 2001 collections.
Like Vetements, Maison Margiela's influence on the fashion industry comes not from the ability to create entirely new ideas, but from a knack for reimagining conventional women's garments (jeans, T-shirts, dresses, leather jackets, sweaters)—broadening the answer to the question, What can a woman wear?
Another creator who helped expand that question—and also influenced Margiela—is Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo, who brought her label, Comme des Garçons to Paris in 1981. She changed fashion's perception of femininity and beauty with her avant-garde designs, introducing body-swallowing silhouettes on the runways. In 2005, Judith Thurman wrote for The New Yorker that "Kawakubo’s silhouette had nothing to do with packaging a woman’s body for seduction," entirely uprooting the idea of womenswear and letting the woman behind the clothes create her own narrative. The first Man Repeller.
But, what do bigger clothes and longer sleeves mean for the state of fashion today?
Definitely, that the '90s and early 2000s trends aren't going anywhere. But also that designers are defying a stagnant fashion industry full of distractions (celebrities, bloggers, Instagram pits, designer burnouts, commercialism) and letting the clothes be the stars of the show by creating things that are impractical, ill-fitting, genderless and antithetical to conventional fashion.
Historically, when the proportions of women's clothing change, it's a visual signal of women gaining power and liberation, or defying a traditional societal norm.
In the 1960s and 1970s, second-wave feminism and the sexual revolution popularized mini skirts and trousers; women were resisting compliance with gender roles and taking ownership of their sexuality.
In 2016, women are, in some ways, fighting a similar battle. Celebrities like Rihanna, Amber Rose and Kim Kardashian pose for naked and scantily-clothed selfies, and perhaps empower women to take ownership of their sexuality with confidence in a society with the ideology that nudity is somehow equal to "asking for it." But there's also power in a woman presenting herself, nonchalantly, in clothing that's three times too big. It's a form of armor, allowing a woman to command attention in the room, but protecting her body from the male gaze. It's anti-sex appeal, as no man can apply their preconceived vocabulary in describing a woman's appearance. Because what's sexy about baggy clothes? Literally, nothing.
As Robin Givhan wrote of oversized clothing for The Washington Post: "This is an election in which the look of power—commander-in-chief power—could be historically altered. A woman could be the face of ultimate clout. And so designers offer up a next generation of power dressing. It is not rooted in the old notions of trim suits and sheath dresses and sturdy heels. That look is obsolete, ineffective. The new cynosure is big. The clothes allow women to take up more space. They can fill a room with their physical presence." Sounds good.
Tahirah Hairston is a style writer from Detroit who likes Susan Miller, Rihanna's friend's Instagram accounts, ramen and ugly-but cute shoes.