Practical Magic: Utilitarian Glamour

September 20, 2021

What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of something glamorous?

Usually when we hear the word “glamour” we envision it in the modern sense — alluring, mysterious, maybe even romantic. There is another, more old-fashioned meaning where glamour is an enchantment — literally a magic spell. But when you think about it, our modern use of glamour is still a kind of magic.

In her book The Power of Glamour, author Virginia Postrel says that glamour “promises to transcend ordinary life and make the ideal real. It depends on a special combination of mystery and grace. Too much information breaks the spell.” She points out “why some audiences might find glamour in nuns, wind turbines or Star Trek,” none of which fit in with the glamourous image many of us pictured initially. Well, maybe some of those Trek outfits.

It’s this combination of practical and beautiful that we’re here to talk about today, continuing our conversation about practical magic. Last time we talked about how tailored looks have changed to incorporate more casual elements. This time we’ll flip that on its head and take a look at how utilitarian features are not just getting incorporated into what is fashionable — they are influencing and defining fashion as a whole.

This trend has developed partially because we’ve all spent the last year confronting the idea that workers who are willing to get their hands dirty – a group which includes everyone from farmers to nurses to sanitation workers – are the people who keep our world going. We even have a new way to describe them: essential workers.

Streetwear designers are honoring these workers by taking on workwear looks. This is not a new trend – workwear has been a part of the streetwear zeitgeist for decades. Style icons in the 1990s “were birthed through surplus, vintage and workwear stores,” according to Gerald Ortiz at Gear Patrol. This style has made a comeback in post-pandemic America, and trend forecaster Samual Trotman believes that it’s here for the long haul. “With everything going on in the world now and all the instability and fears around sustainability people are looking more and more to timeless garments that are both functional and high quality so that they last,” says Trotman.

Ultilitarian Glamour

As workwear looks become more desirable to a wider set of people, they also get farther removed from their original purpose. There was a time when reflective vests and jackets were only seen on active roadside construction sites, but you can now find joggers wearing them on their daily run. Scrubs are usually seen in a doctor’s office or a hospital, but designers of modern scrubs like WonderWink make it a point to create garments that are both comfortable and fashionable enough to be worn anywhere. Familiar brands like Carhartt have appeal well beyond the working-man aesthetic, bridging the gap into hip-hop and streetwear culture to become a genuine fashion icon.

Ultilitarian Glamour

That original purpose still resonates, and that’s another reason why utilitarian styles have become more fashionable. While Americans are reluctant to give up their comfort, especially in what they wear, our ongoing experience with seclusion and uncertainty has left many with a deep desire for safety and preparedness. Simple features like pockets are now being included in stretchy yoga pants, dresses and even gloves. Those joggers wearing reflective apparel are doing so with their safety in mind.

The key to the successful blending of utility and glamour is versatility. Even if you’re wearing core basics, the outerwear you choose can become your fashion statement. Versatile choices like the Collective system give you freedom to incorporate different layers and even different colors into your outfit. A dress can be worn with a t-shirt underneath and a jacket over the top to change up the look. Even capes, once a useful accessory that could become a tent or a blanket if needed, have been showing up on the runway and as a part of trending outfits this year.

Fashion is an art - Patricia Field

As legendary costume designer Patricia Field has said, “Fashion is an art. It’s a cultural statement of the times.” With utilitarian glamour, fashion and function are given equal time and multi-purpose features are a desirable design element. The statement here is that we want to be prepared and we want to be safe and we want to look and feel good, all at the same time.

If it takes a little magic along the way, then I think we’re all ready to believe.

Join us next month as we start to wrap up 2021 with a closer look at how a little basic goodness is something we’re all yearning for right now. See you then!