My sister and I were never what one would call the “fashionable” kids. Usually, we were clad in mismatched two-piece sets, pajamas, or dance leotards (our mom let us dress ourselves). However, we were known to create looks based on our favorite characters. Though not fashionistas, we were bookworms and our favorite characters were our muses.
For a while, we went through a phase where we were both equally obsessed with historical fiction. We especially loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, a series that chronicles the life of Laura and her sisters as they grow up traveling in a Conestoga wagon in the 19th century. In the series, the family continually moves west, epitomizing the mindset of families supporting manifest destiny. The books described how the girls wore flowy dresses that blew in the Midwestern winds that their “ma” had sewn for them, and completed their outfit with flower-dotted aprons and bonnets. Likewise, another favorite series- The American Girl Books, a collection that follows repetitive characters like Felicity, Kirsten, and Samantha- told the tales of girls growing up in past eras and made note of the domestic style characteristic of their respective periods.
Not many other 8-year-olds were enchanted by the idea of wearing a long flowery dress except for my sister and I. We begged our mom to make us dresses just like our favorite character’s had. She, instead, bought the two of us matching purple flower dresses and cloaks to go along with them. To complete the look, we sported paisley bonnets that our Grandma had bought us. The outfits characterized the shared interests of our sisterhood.
As youths with little care for what others thought of us, we giddily wore our favorite outfits for dress up, Halloween, and, of course, on trips to the historical village a few hours away. Plenty of pictures of us dressed up in our bonnets, long skirts, and floral-printed patterns grace our photo albums. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve looked at those pictures and shuddered. But, who would have known that we were 10 years early to a trend that would emerge on my Instagram feed: the prairie dress.
The housewife look has surprisingly taken on a modern persona admidst today’s progressive spirit. This modest look is a sharp contrast from the mini skirts and low rise looks when I was in my childhood, and it’s domiciliary influences seem to counter feminist ideology and urban style. Regardless, it has prevailed in 2019. Arguably kicked off by New York Fashion Week last fall, the prairie look has trickled down to street-style looks, influencer garb, and the closets of the masses.
Manifesting in multiple ways, prairie fashion is infiltrating our apparel selections. Look at length- the midi-style is moving away from its prior prude connotation. Arguably, longer-length skirts and dresses are descendants of the long dresses required during pre-feminism days. Longer-length prairie influences of today feature bolder patterns in garden hues.
Prairie bonnets feature ribbons and ruffles, characterizing all things overtly femme. This femmeness has infiltrated the modern prairie dress, dictating pouffy sleeves and cinched hems. I love how these delicate elements contrast chunky sneakers, making a skirt or dress work for day-to-day wear.
By definition, prairies are a large area of grassland, typically in the midwestern United States. With grassland comes vegetation, herbs, and wildflowers amidst the greenery. The beauty of flowers popping up on a green canvas carried its way into fashion now and then. Girlish flowers have long dotted dresses, yet the prairie trend seems to be prompting their inclusions in this year’s designs. I especially love Cecile Bahnsen’s multi-colored flowered look.
Vintage looks from across decades feature many of the staples of the prairie look: longer-lengths, floral patterns, and ruffled extremities. With the rise of thrifting aided by apps like Depop, the prairie look can be authentic- or from close to that era- accessibly.
I had a few minutes to spare waiting for a train in Paris, so I popped into one of the stores at the station. Everything was 50% off, including one mid-length, dark green, floral-printed dress. I was in Paris, but, when I put it on the next day, I could have been on the prairie.
I took a picture in the dress, posted it on my Instagram, and my sister commented, “Great dress. Can’t wait to borrow it.’
If that’s not full circle, I don’t know what is.