Peplums, Please!

One of the most significant trends for spring 2012 is the resurgence of the peplum – a short expanse of fabric that extends down and out from a defined waist and is worn over a skirt or pants. The effect of the peplum is emphasis on curves, a style technique that is flattering to most women.

The April 2012 issue of Allure associates the peplum with such diverse temptresses as Aphrodite, Scarlett O’Hara, Ava Gardner and such styles as Grecian tunics, 19th-Century riding habits and Christian Dior’s post World War II “New Look.” Allure advises: “For the most flattering figure, take a clue from Celine and offset peplums with a slim skirt or pair of pants.”

The Celine peplum is not the easiest version to wear. Notice that the waistline of the garment appears to fall above the model’s natural waist, which visually throws the proportions off. It’s easier to see the potential for a flattering silhouette in the dress from DKNY pictured lower left. Allure’s montage of photos demonstrates that peplums can be found as design elements of skirts, tops, or dresses. The photo bottom right shows Princess Diana wearing a peplum jacket skirt suit in 1986.

Another version of the peplum that is not easy to wear is this version from Yves Saint Laurent, pictured in the April 2012 issue of Harper’s Bazaar. Here the peplum starts at about the level of the waist, but the garment does not fit closely against the body (as styled on the model shown here); the result is an oversized top that does little to define curves on the model. The garment would be more flattering if the waist were fitted to the model. The slim pants work well with the top.

The April 2012 issue of InStyle answers a reader’s inquiry, “What are the key things to look for when buying a peplum dress?” The response: “Go minimal (sleeveless styles work best), and be sure the flare starts at your waist—the thinnest part of your torso—and ends at your hip bone. (If it’s too long, it may end up looking like a skirt.) For a sleek effect, stay dark and monochromatic, and add pumps.” The photo pictures actress Dianna Agron wearing a sleek black peplum dress from Stella McCartney.  InStyle‘s advice is spot-on.

Not all fashion magazine editors have taken a liking to peplums. Anne Slowey writes in the March 2012 issue of Elle magazine: “Personally, I think it’s never a good idea to accentuate one’s derriere with a geometric shape; I don’t care how skinny you are. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: A lot of fabric covering one’s ass is just that—a lot of fabric.”

Slowey goes on to reveal that the peplum “brings to mind those Hollywood grandes dames of the studio era such as Joan Crawford or Rosalind Russell. Big-boned and big-mouthed, these gals embodied qualities that are a drag queen’s dream, with all their sharp wit and exaggerated personalities, on-screen and off. To that end, I don’t care how many designers try to reinvent this wheel; the peplum will always smack of a bit of melodrama.”

Slowey continues: “If you want to give the peplum a whirl, stick to the more wearable ones—like those from Francisco Costa at Calvin Klein or Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy, who treat the trend with such a delicate hand as to be barely perceptible. Their versions succeed at being dressy without a lot of fuss. To wit: Stefano Pilati for YSL worked his into a flirty yet simple top. For the more intellectually minded, Phoebe Philo at Celine gave the look a utilitarian, deconstructed edge by detaching hers at the waist. But beware those who borrow this silhouette booster with little or no interpretation. They not only look dated but uncomfortable, which is a worse fashion foul by far.”

The key to wearing a peplum style that flatters is all about fit:  The garment must fit closely at the natural waistline and flare from that point. The effect is to repeat or enhance a woman’s curves.

With that in mind, consider this example from the pages of the January 2012 issue of Vogue, picturing a jacket, vest, sweater and zippered peplum from Vera Wang. The placement of the waistline is all wrong, and the result is an odd bump that doesn’t relate to the model’s body. The slim pants from Yves Saint Laurent almost give the model the look of two hips – a high peplum-created hip plus her natural hip. This is a look best avoided.

The delicate treatment of peplums by Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy referenced by Anne Slowey of Elle also appears in the January 2012 issue of Vogue. The lines of the jacket seem to follow the shape of the model’s form, and the result, delicate or not, is quite charming.

Don’t be put off by the nay-sayers. Peplums can be extremely flattering, both for women with slender shapes and also for women with curvaceous high hips and generous thighs.

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