Nothing can quite beat ruffles when it comes to striking the perfect balance between feminine allure and high drama. Romantic without becoming saccharine, they're the ideal antidote to minimalism, and the ruffled tops fashion trend defined the SS16 and AW16 catwalks.
Whether the frills were oversized and architectural or created with romantic sheer fabrics, they were prevalent in almost every show. The ruffle top isn’t new, however. Labels like Chloé, Roksanda and Ralph Lauren were borrowing from a centuries-old fashion trend. For over 600 years, frill tops have been in the arsenals of style-forecasters and have been adapted to suit transient looks. From the stiff ruffs of 17th Century aristocrats to loose-flowing peasant blouses in the 70s, the simple ruffled top is a fashion mainstay.
A frill fit for a queen
The ruffled tops trend had unlikely beginnings. In 16th century Europe, returning soldiers (yes, really) took to slashing the top layer of their clothes to reveal the plainer inner layer, popular because it enhanced a ‘ragged, war hero’ look. From there the trend grew – outwards. This gave way to the infamous ruff, often stiffened with starch and wire to give the wearer a regal pose (it was a staple item in Queen Elizabeth I’s wardrobe). At one point, it was nearly 36 inches in diameter. Luckily for us, the ruff has evolved – although Christopher Bailey could be accused of attempting to resurrect its slimmer sister in his AW16 womenswear collection.
With the advent of the 1700s, and lace collars, the ruff was discarded – but the effect was still considered fashionable. Marie Antoinette was often seen in a cacophony of ruffles, which increased the popularity of frill tops in French high society. Happily, this is a look that designers are interpreting for today’s fashions. While colourful Roberto Cavalli tops were decorated with fluted sleeves and ruffle fronts for SS16, for AW16 Giambattista Valli tops took inspiration from the pale pastels and rich embroidery of 18th century France.
Bohemia, Bianca and New Romantics
Skipping ahead a couple hundred years, the ruffle tops fashion trend defined the 1970s, too. The ethereal fashions of the early 70s embraced sheer fabrics and feminine silhouettes, combining the decade's free love ethos with a vintage aesthetic. Think Victorian-era high collars and peasant skirts, à la Joni Mitchell and Stevie Nicks. Creative Director for Chloé, Clare Waight Keller, took elements of this look to curate her AW16 show. By blending diaphanous fabrics and fluid cuts with the adventurous spirit of pioneering 20th century motorcyclist and journalist Anne-France Dautheville, Keller created a collection filled with high-impact femininity and wanderlust. The muted jewel-toned Chloé blouses worn with leather trousers and skirts were a particular highlight.
The ruffle top was also a favourite at the disco. Before you cringe at the thought of polyester tuxedo shirts in eye-watering shades, we’re talking Bianca Jagger and Halston. Valentino took inspiration from this era for AW16, offering up flashes of shimmering velvet frills in the ballet-inspired show. In the 80s, ruffles were taken up by the New Romantics, and Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent blouses captured the scene's offbeat aesthetic of outsized bows and frilled cuffs.
Texture (and feminism) over tradition
The ruffled tops trend exploded onto the SS16 catwalks with renewed vigour and is seemingly sticking around. Writer and Associate Designer for FASHION Magazine in Canada, Nicole Schaeffer, explains that this new ruffle is “a hybrid of all the iterations that have come before – it’s a little ladylike, a little boho, a little subversive.” We’re seeing a distinctly sculptural take on the traditional technique, with designers exploring texture over pattern. For AW16, Isa Arfen updated the classic white shirt by adding ruffles and origami elements, resulting in a fusion of 70s boho and the current taste for minimalism. The Zimmermann SS17 catwalk was rife with tulle, lace and frills, reminiscent of the New Romantics' taste for theatrical pirate-inspired costumes.
While few would argue with the history of the ruffled tops trend as laid out above, there is one woman who makes it her duty to question the sartorial status-quo: Leandra Medine, aka The Man Repeller. On her blog, Leandra puts forth the case that the seemingly innocent ruffle is, in fact, an artistic impression of the female anatomy. Citing Gucci’s SS13 catwalk, which showcased ruffles cascading down sleeves in neon brights, Leandra is almost convincing. We might even go one further and suggest that the Marques Almeida SS16 catwalks followed suit, offering tops adorned with shredded ruffles and outsized frills. But then again, we’ll probably just stick to the accepted history – thanks anyway, Leandra.
The ruffled tops micro-trend is going nowhere fast. In fact, having been on the cuffs and collars of high society since the 1600s, the simple frill is a sartorial staple. Each season we see it in various incarnations; J.W.Anderson even managed to add a few leather ruffles into his AW16 collection. High priest of all that is stylish, Karl Lagerfeld, has often been known to add a ruff or two to his designs – although he insisted his AW17 Fendi show boasted 'waves' instead. The ruffled tops fashion trend defined the 70s, 80s and 00s and will probably go on to make an appearance for many decades to come.