Hot Couture

By Revekah Echols

There are some illusions that we, as Southerners,

envision as summer nears: running around wearing only a veil of bronzer and a slash of mascara, al fresco dining, layered medallion necklaces worn atop silk slip dresses, midweight cashmere popovers for evenings out. And of course, the dream wilts and reality sinks in quickly as thermometers inevitably rise.

We reluctantly admit to ourselves that we do not live on the Amalfi Coast or Napa Valley, and we are not afforded warm days, cool afternoons and brisk, low humidity evenings. It is hot, oppressively so, all the time. All day, all night, there is no escape. The bronzer becomes blotchy, mascara smears, and even looking at cashmere causes sweating. But style and fashion attempt to find accord, if not supersede altogether, even the most oppressive weather.

Designers have dealt with this in many ways. Fashion industry darling Adam Lippes adopted the notion that the freedom of the body to move under clothing affords the body the greatest comfort (and style, we would imply). He employed traditional American fabrics like lightweight chambray and cut them in Japanese-inspired silhouettes. One look featured high-waist, wide-legged culottes and a matching boat-neck, sleeveless top with a longer, draping back. Another look featured white eyelet constructed into a short, boxy trapeze top and gentle A-line midi skirt.

An oppositional and equally valid point of view came from designer Isabel Marant who skipped the billowy silhouettes altogether and used filmier, more open fabrics in more abbreviated shapes: an apron-front broderie anglaise cover-up over a black maillot swimsuit, crochet tanks over studded trousers, one-sleeved lame tops tucked neatly into high-waisted shorts — all accomplished with her cool, flirty, French signature. There is no arguing that less coverage equals a greater possibility of staying cool.

Other designers like Olivier Rousteing for Balmain seemed to shake his proverbial fists at pragmatism and cranked up the fashion quotient despite the raging temperatures. Some looks featured patent leather overalls with clear PVC boots. Others paired embellished minidresses worn under duster-length cardigans and thigh-high boots. Even his traditional use of spring pieces like shorts were atelier-encrusted and made of heavyweight boucle. The tongue-in-cheek message stayed true to his opulent, grandiose style: fashion makes no exceptions.

To stay cool and chic, one does need a few more tricks outside of just staying away from bedazzled leather paper bag trousers (and if you must, please take an electrolyte-laced drink around with you). Fashion has adopted certain styling points in the recent past, which double as practical tricks that work well in the heat. Knotting off tops and dresses helps eliminate extra fabric but also keeps clothes from incubating extra heat. Low, neat chignon buns keep hair off the neck and hedge the humidity from ruining your efforts. Skipping a camisole under sheer tops and layering colorful or textured bralettes and bandeaus instead keeps fabric to a minimum. In addition, incorporating clothing with technical fabric manages sweat and moisture better than traditional fabrics.

But in this postmodern world, maybe it’s not really hot. Maybe it’s actually cold or lukewarm or whatever you want it to be. In the event that we are in some kind of subjective, relative, post- neo-romantic arctic tundra, throw an asymmetric cashmere and linen knit cardigan in the pool bag just to be on the safe side.