The fastest way to kill a trend is to put it on a politician. Just as William Hague killed baseball caps and Amber Rudd killed Perspex glasses frames, when Theresa May stepped into the Hyatt Regency on the eve of the annual Conservative party conference last weekend wearing a front-tying knot dress in sky blue – its third appearance to date – she killed the tied-wrap dress.
This summer you could not move for a skirt or dress that tied at the side or front, a dress like May’s. Here, we used the word wrap so many times we had to think of new ways to describe it, recently settling on “drape”. It is a relief that as we encounter a new season, we find a new way to fasten our clothes.
Because folding is precisely that: a way of fastening, and it works exactly as it sounds. A waist folded over; a trouser hem that has been folded up; a skirt that has been shortened or lengthened with a conscious fold; a polo neck folded over once or twice. On one level, it smacks of maternity wear, but it’s not to be taken lightly – there is something pleasingly Marie Kondo about folding something into a shape. To paraphrase the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze: “The process of folding is a process of becoming – if something can fold it is capable of becoming.”
At current season Jacquemus, dresses folded at the waist to become skirts. At Calvin Klein’s spring 2019 show, the folding was a little more specialised – a tie-dye neoprene top folded over to become a miniskirt. On the high street, Zara has a grey cashmere skirt with an elastic band designed for folding, while Finery has a selection of jumpers in ecru and oatmeal with too-long sleeves, also meant to be folded back. New-season Levi’s include a pair of overalls with a hem folded over precisely an inch, while Asos has trousers and tops with in-built folds.
In modern fashion, the discussion around folding started in the second half of the 20th century with Balenciaga’s 1960s envelope dress. By the 1980s it was loaded with meaning thanks to the deconstructionist movement, where prevalent Japanese designers including Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto used folds to “play with, conceal and change the human body”, according to the fashion historian Monica Sklar. This idea has stuck, she says. Folding is the opposite of a corset, it is neither tight nor restrictive and it is not gender-dependent. Folding your waistband might pivot on comfort, but in many ways it is a power move. You wear the clothes, not the other way round.
If you ever rolled up your skirt at school, news that folding is “a thing” won’t set your screen on fire, although fashion’s latest take on folding is slightly more arch, being born out of necessity. For me, it started in 2017, when we reached critical mass for large sleeves. They ballooned and dragged, as if our arms had been swallowed by snakes, but no one dared to fold them. Then Off White created a dadaist jumper with the logo printed on to the folded part of the sleeve and suddenly we were supposed to fold our sleeves. Hallelujah. Our washing bills would finally dwindle.
Elsewhere, we bought chinos – which were too long, but instead of hemming them, we folded the hems, so as to wear them with flats not heels. Victoria Beckham, a woman who has switched from heels to flats, tends to make trousers with folded hems for precisely this reason. The whole model of Celine under Phoebe Philo was anchored around trousers which you could fold and wear with Stan Smiths (then) or Veja trainers (now). The subtext was simple: practicality was standing up to fashion and it was winning.
Sklar thinks there are three deep-seated reasons why folding has staged a comeback: individuality, sexuality-slash-gender and a backlash against fast fashion. “It might seem tangential, the idea of personalising things by folding them,” says Sklar. “But in this age of Instagram, you need a tweak that distinguishes you from everyone else.” So if everyone is wearing overalls, then you need to undo one side, like model Adesuwa Aighewi.
As for sexuality, “it’s about not subscribing to one notion of sexiness. And it’s not obvious. It’s about playing with what you reveal, and owning what you reveal. The slightly undone look.” And fast fashion? It is the bogof look – one skirt to wear three different ways. “Folding turns a garment into something else entirely. It’s art for art’s sake but it’s also upcycling,” says Sklar.
Pre-folded clothes are not for everyone. The trick is to find the fold that works for you, and make it your own. Neon polo necks are this season’s base layer but try to fold the neck over once (it makes the neck look longer). Buy a skirt that is too long (try the tall section of shops) and fold the excess fabric over at the waist. Or simply make like Jennifer Aniston in early Friends and wear dungarees – see Ashley Williams, Marc Jacobs and Topshop – at half mast.
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