As the crisp chill of fall leads the way to the frost of winter, our thoughts turn towards finding the perfect outerwear to help us through the icy months ahead. And while past seasons have been filled with a cacophony of outsized shapes (think cocoon coat) and over-the-top prints and mixed media, the trend of the moment is decidedly more subdued. With the severe tailoring and wide lapels of a military coat combined with protruding cartridge pleats — so named as it resembles the stiffened webbing on a cartridge belt — at the hips, this style relies more on unique detailing over discordant color combinations to tantalize the senses.
Unlike the peplum silhouette of recent seasons — that overused “figure flattery” trope that overemphasizes the curves of a woman’s hips to make the waist seem smaller — these hip pleats act more like embellishments, a point of interest in an otherwise simple garment. Like rococo-era panniers, the added volume affects the whole silhouette, extending the skirt out further than a classic double-breasted outer-garment. This then allows the diaphanous pleating become the focus, almost to the point of fetishism, which the legendary photographer Irving Penn would have enjoyed capturing immensely.
A classically male-oriented silhouette, this iteration of the impeccably tailored coat has a deliciously subversive nature that goes beyond gender politics. The broad shoulders, wide lapels, and tapered body speak of a strong and powerful woman who is unafraid to take up space in a room. Simple yet definitive, they solemnly and quietly imbue a sense of intimidation and dominance in the viewer who can’t quite put their finger on why the wearer is so compelling.
But it’s the artfully arrayed pleats at the posterior that bring femininity to the fore. At Bottega Veneta, structured, stiffened pleats were all over the runway, particularly with their coats. A sunny yellow coat threw androgyny on its head with a feminine flared hem and square-cut tabs jutting out from the back that evoked the male 19th century military coats of yore. Taking the notion of pleating further, a tomato red coat flared into a delicately realized A-line shape while stiffened flaps were combined with a series of languid and draped folds on the back, softly molded into the curvilinear contour of a scarab beetle.
Oscar de la Renta’s teal number is softer and less severe. Hip pleats become more like “hip draping” as the coat wraps around the waist with intricate origami-esque folds in a style that would seem better suited to a silk robe or knit duster. The lack of constriction here gives a sense of undress, which, in a felted cashgora, seems even more luxurious — like a lady of privilege who has the luxury of lounging on tufted chintz couches in her finely furnished boudoir.
The real intrigue emerges when these coats are left unbuttoned or unbelted. Upon opening, the coat floats gently against the body in a languid manner, evoking a seductive yet intimate gesture. It is here where femininity reveals itself in a more direct way — woolen fabric draped into soft folds directly contrasts to the buttoned-up nature of severe tailoring. That juxtaposition between militant exterior and relaxed inner nature play off one another to create the perfect marriage of form and function. And when it comes to one’s coat — both the companion and outer armor of a woman that takes her through those blustery winter days — what more can one ask for?