“We started thinking: what is important for us in fashion? I think as designers, our core value is play. Playing is something so intellectual, but also so pure,” said Area codesigner Piotrek Panszczyk backstage. An air of play was certainly evident in the SS19 collection, with its technicolor hues and model Frida Aasen's Barbie-doll looks. In fact, the season’s muse was Libuše Niklová, a Czech artist and inventor who created the first inflatable children’s toys for children in the ‘60s. Over at Eckhaus Latta, another NYFW celebrated design duo, play was also an undercurrent, as the show was soundtracked by children in attendance banging on pots and shaking tambourines. The styling at Marc Jacobs, one of the final shows of NYFW SS19, was also distinctly doll-like, complete with frills, bows and pastel shades.
The value of play is often overlooked in adulthood and perhaps for anyone over 16, is better described as "flow", a mental state of being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, who coined the term, describes it as when “the ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost." Perhaps more playful clothes, as opposed to achievement and success-focused power suits, can help foster this light, immersive state.
Playful candy colors were also dominant at Prabal Gurung, Sies Marjan and Brandon Maxwell. The significance of these cheerful jewel-like shades is probably best understood if we stop and think about their opposite - staid serious neutrals. The grays, blacks and navies that often dominate workwear and more cerebral brands are associated with grown-up virtues: loyalty, conscientiousness, self-control and intelligence. Color-pop shades are described would be deemed inappropriate for most workplaces, and tend to be described as “young”. But what about if we took away the stigma, and embraced what these colors have to offer us? Who couldn’t use a happy, youthful and carefree injection?
Many elements divide childhood and adulthood, the latter being exponentially focused on obligations, burdens and responsibilities. But perhaps the biggest difference between children and adults is the lack of self-conscious rumination that children possess. Watch a three-year-old for a few minutes, and you see how they just are in all their glory. They’re yanking those socks off, scarfing down that fourth cookie, laughing, really laughing, with their whole body. There’s unbridled confidence that then slowly gets chipped away by life’s experiences. And yet maintaining this youthful spirit into adulthood is a difficult, but hugely beneficial task.
But can wearing playful, youthfully colored clothes actually help us recapture some of that ease and lightness we’ve lost? Not in itself of course - it’s an interplay. Fashion gives us a tangible reference, but we also have to be mentally partially already there, and believe that the clothes will help for the clothes to help. That’s how enclothed cognition works - with the power of the placebo.
And perhaps that’s really the catch-22 - if we overcome our self-consciousness and learn to wear whatever we want (ruffles, frills and neon at any age just because it makes us smile), if we stop caring about the judgements of others, then we may have really have found a sartorial fountain of youth in SS19’s electric shades and Barbie-wardrobe staples.