The quiet, understated rise of blandstanding
Given the open bar of novel trends being served this season (Panniers! Breast plates! Bumsters!), you might think it implausible that an altogether more sober proposition could generate any excitement at all. But it’s the quiet ones you have to look out for.
And so, one look that cut through the noise of the SS23 show season was a plaid shirt, blue jeans and a white tank. That’s it. Well, sort of. In the deft hands of Bottega Veneta’s Matthieu Blazy, that proudly ordinary ensemble encapsulated something bigger. One of 72 looks, some more obvious headline acts, in a SS23 collection so good that when I bumped into a friend at the Eurostar terminal a couple of days after, he told me it made him want to ‘burn everything I own and start again’.
Thankfully, you don’t need to be quite so dramatic. But he’s right: the arrival of SS23 calls for a sartorial Ctrl-Alt-Delete, a metaphorical razing of algorithmic attitudes to getting dressed. It’s time for blandstanding.
Which is? A self-assured appreciation of the familiar, the quotidian, the (maybe just a little bit) boring. ‘Perverse banality,’ wrote Blazy in his collection show notes, which sums it up nicely (that jeans + flannel look = blandstanding in motion). Minimalist-adjacent but not necessarily minimal, it is the rejection of gimmicky, all-in trends. There is a soft revolution in the restraint, a power in the poise. Just whatever you do, please don’t call it normcore. (On that note, can we please put partisan politics aside and collectively cold-shoulder ‘core’ for 2023? Barbiecore, cottagecore, Wednesdaycore. Enough now.)
You can see it in the surplus of unsexy washing-up-water colours on the red carpet. Coveting Prada’s perfect grey knits? That’s superlative blandstanding. Ditto The Row’s sumptuous, generously proportioned tailoring, or Saint Laurent’s strict, sensual eveningwear. And it is found in familiarity, too; be that the capri leggings proposed at Tory Burch (there, a natty little layering idea, but no doubt you’ve worn something similar to yoga) or Hedi Slimane’s indie sleaze love letter at Celine, which referenced the clothes that really defined the mid-Noughties for so many of us.
It is, in short, rejecting the all-you-can-eat buffet of trends made for TikTok and saying, ‘No thanks, I’m good.’
To wear something defiantly unassuming requires a swish of sparkle, a surplus of substance. One must have chutzpah and spirit and entertaining stories
Perhaps that sounds horribly dull; it is anything but. There is an uncanny valley quality to these looks, something a little bit off. Look at Jonathan Anderson’s brilliant SS23 Loewe collection, where staples such as the wax jacket or trench were reimagined in exaggerated, almost cartoonish proportions (the blandstander can do weird, too!). Similarly, that Bottega Veneta look was not just a plaid shirt, jeans and a white tank but all cut from supremely soft nappa leather.
That these are clothes which invite a second glance, a closer look, explains their appeal. They encourage tactile, real-life interaction that feels subtly rebellious in a world that is always ‘online now’. How thrilling to wear something that thrives up close and personal — really worn! — not in the confines of a 1080x1080-pixel square. It’s a subtle rebellion.
There is solace to be found in the unapologetically familiar. The world is crazy enough, why complicate it further with chaotic clothes? Surely if we can take one lesson from the panto-politics of the past couple of years, it’s that a-bit-boring is actually quite a good thing.
But as much as blandstanding gives — be warned — it also demands something of the wearer. Not least: confidence. To wear something defiantly unassuming requires a swish of sparkle, a surplus of substance. It demands an opinion on the part of the wearer who, by the way, gets that an outfit is never a valid substitute for a personality. She must have chutzpah and spirit and entertaining stories. Because what is a boring person in boring clothes? I could tell you, but I’ve nodded off just thinking about it.
If you want proof, just look who Blazy put in that flannel look: Kate Moss. She is a woman who brings history, mythology even, to whatever she wears. She doesn’t need clothes to do it for her. And neither, this season, do you.