Pressed for Prints

By Revekah Echols

A naysayer’s last stand

The last memorable print I recall wearing was on an oversized pink cotton voile button-down from some discount retailer in 1986. The print featured rainbows flanked with symmetrical white clouds and people in hot air balloons, which I presumed were floating down to an equally colorful and blithe existence. I was in the third grade, and I wore it exclusively with a pair of turquoise leggings dotted with primary-colored hearts. I remember the happy, ebullient feeling putting it on in the mornings, and whether that feeling came because I was a carefree child or whether it was some kind of metaphysical response to the print even then, I could not say. But I wore it so often that my mother had to stitch holes in the leggings multiple times, and I started rolling the sleeves up because they were functionally too short.

A summer later, we went to Korea to visit family, and I would find and purchase a few things that echoed that landmark outfit: a pink, color-blocked short-sleeve Johnny collar with heart print pull-on pants; an aqua T-shirt with an enormous Hello Kitty head wearing a splatter-paint bow saying something in English that was both unintelligible and misspelled; and a pair of imitation Nike Velcro sneakers that featured rainbows instead of a swoosh. Sadly, as the law of diminishing marginal returns even applies in childhood, I never recovered the feelings of passion and heaving attachment toward the outfit I had that year in Mrs. Shipman’s class, but I did spend a decent amount of time trying.

And since then, almost without exception, I have been a solid person living in a printed world. There were short experiments with paisley in the early ’90s, the occasional abstracted floral when the Gap experimented with print. But later that decade, when I became aware of designers like Jil Sander, Narciso Rodriguez and Yohji Yamamoto, my allegiance to solids ceased to feel isolating and ascetic. For the first time, monochrome and tonal clothing felt purposeful, charismatic and even natural. Of course, futurism and grunge were main cultural ideas at the time, and I suppose Martians and emo-artists do not ever care for ikat or chevron or liberty prints, ever.

Be that as it may, prints always felt too extroverted, psychosomatic and assertive to me. I felt they gave away too much but also somehow said very little. And more than just avoiding print, I have always simply found solid colors to be the more compelling choice. There is a certain solidarity and sophistication about a monolithic color element as well as a greater opportunity for nuance in construction and fabric.

This spring, prints are not just everywhere, they are outside, inside, in combinations, in accessories and are the force majeure of the season. And even historically minimalist designers like Celine and Rick Owens (his messianic, apocalyptic stripe at the end of his show was my favorite) are participating. The betrayed part of me imagines that their use of print is embedded with irony, which seems to have become the overarching cultural ethos of our time. And the less tortured side of me realizes that a print doesn’t have to compromise purity or judgment or sophistication, maybe it just gives you a chance to be well-rounded. I find myself being heart-thumpingly drawn to the effusive colors and enormous florals and quirky, geometric motifs out there. Truthfully, I probably won’t wear them, but I will at least think about it.

Join the Conversation