Lace it up for spring

Posted: March 28, 2013

Lace has woven its way into many a spring fashion look, and the result is a dainty mix of decades:

Alençon sleeves are reminiscent of the romantic flapper look, and lacy floor-length maxis in blush tones are '70s bohemian chic.

Minis in sherbet Chantilly are so totally 1980s punk. Pair a sheer lace shell with a slim-fitting pantsuit and your '60s mod silhouette is now - poof - futuristic.

Add in the fashion industry's continued love affair with mixed media, and is it any wonder lace is popping up in so many unexpected ways? Lace on prints, lace on cashmere, lace on leather . . . .

"Lace is very intriguing this spring," said Cynthia Weber-Cleary, fashion director at InStyle magazine, which featured colored lace dresses as part of its March "Trends We Love" section.

"I would say lace is romantic, feminine. When done in shapes that aren't overtly sexy, lace is classic."

The reasons behind lace's shift from trim to main attraction are many. Shows like the post-Edwardian-era Downton Abbey dress heroines in dramatic velvet dinner gowns trimmed with lace, some featuring bodices with lace insets.

And The Great Gatsby trailers feature Daisy draped in a sparkling lace drop-waist gown during the height of the Roaring Twenties.

In the popular 1960s period drama Mad Men, the Betty Draper character often wears lace.

"In Season 3, I designed a pink-and-white lace maternity dress for Betty," said Janie Bryant, the show's costume designer. "I used white lace in this scene as it recalls rebirth and womanhood."

And then there is the Kate Middleton effect: Two years ago she wore a demure, long-sleeved wedding gown featuring hand-cut lace illusion sleeves by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. Since then, the Duchess of Cambridge has often been seen around town in fit-for-a-princess lacy nude sheaths. (No wonder designers such as Marchesa, Oscar de la Renta, and Michael Kors have introduced more lace to their eveningwear collections.)

And as we gravitate to a dressier day look, designers like Diane von Furstenberg are infusing those evening and lingerie looks into their ready-to-wear collections, snazzing up everything from crewneck sweaters to hot pants.

This spring, J. Crew is selling a near-hot-pink lace slip dress, and at Target, Prabal Gurung's capsule collection features lace clutches, tuxedo-style blouses with lace smocking, and floral print skirts with lace trim.

The big-box retailer's Kate Young collection includes an alluring lace bodysuit, perfect to layer under a maxi dress. Or if you're feeling sultry, you could pair it with a shrunken jacket.

This is a part of what Knit Wit's Ann Gitter refers to as the mixed-media trend.

"I don't remember seeing lace used with so many different fabrics, from black leather to silk shells," said Gitter, who has been in the retail business for 44 years. "We are even seeing lace infused with camo."

Originally, lace wasn't meant to be worn by the masses. Early Renaissance artisans in what was known as the cutwork trade traced out pieces of linen and embroidered the edges to make doilies and handkerchiefs. From there, some nearsighted, ambitious tailor - nobody's sure who that was - added loops to create an openwork pattern that came to be known as lace.

Eventually lace was used on the clothing of military generals, royalty, popes; it was considered a high-status fashion indicator.

"The earliest lace was hand-sewn and fashioned from linen, silk, gold, and silver threads," explained Clare Sauro, curator of Drexel University's historic costume collection. "It would take a very long time to produce. Fashions were simple so people could show off their lace."

With the industrial revolution came mass-produced lace, thanks to the proliferation of both cotton and machinery.

Still, lace had remained an accent, usually playing the part of a blouse ruffle, in the details of a camisole, or trim on a slip. The 1920s were the first time it became trendy beyond the aristocracy, and lace has ebbed in and out of fashion until now, when it's playing a dominant role.

"It's the accent that never really left us," explained Elle Strauss, senior fashion director at Lucky magazine.

Lace detailing showed up in stores last summer, but this spring, designer labels from Balenciaga to Marc Jacobs to Alexander McQueen are on an endless lacy loop.

"We use a lot of lace because it's so much fun and effortlessly chic," said designer Liz Rymar, a Huntingdon Valley native. Rymar is one-half of the New York-based ready-to-wear line ellelauri.

"This year, about 30 to 40 percent of our women's wear collection had a stretch or eyelash lace component," Rymar said. "It gives our overall feminine aesthetic such pop."

Contact Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or Follow her on Twitter @ewellingtonphl.

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