When Kristen Stewart wore pale jade-coloured Chanel trousers under a dress at the Venice film festival last week, comments on the Instagram page of Stewart’s stylist Tara Swennen included: “She looks great but looks like she’s wearing pyjamas. Chanel really?”
But now, as normal life flickers into view, the style – a western appropriation of the shalwar kameez – has emerged as the first post-pandemic trend. Nicknamed “double duty” by Harper’s Bazaar, the silhouette, which has also been seen on the catwalks of Louis Vuitton and Fendi, speaks to our hybrid lives and the liminal state we still find ourselves in when it comes to thinking about our clothes after 18 months of pandemic living.
“With the scars that the pandemic left on society, we are going to see extreme contradictions playing out in the market in our approach to shopping and dressing up,” says Lorna Hall, director of fashion intelligence at trend forecaster WGSN.
Joanne Thomas, from colour expert Coloro, adds: “Risk-averse consumers are prioritising comfort, value-per-wear and versatility,” which speaks to the appeal of the double-duty trend.
Fashion historian Professor Alison Goodrum thinks the trouser frock is about hedging our bets as we emerge back into the working world. “It enables us to build a bridge between informal and formal attire and to begin to re-engage with tailoring and waistbands in a relatively forgiving manner. It’s a look that is a sort of safety net, piecing together the practicalities of the trouser with the versatility of layering.”
For fashion lecturer Liza Betts, the outfits make “reference to the border zone between our under and outwear”. She says that Stewart’s outfit demonstrates the recent pull between our public and private selves and the boundaries that separate areas of our home and work lives becoming less clearly defined.
Even before the pandemic changed our shopping habits, the outfit has been a fashion mainstay because its design is unexpected. The idea of dresses and trousers worn together rewrites the visual language of clothing and how we normally put together our ensembles.
“In this scenario, trousers are no longer conceived as mere ‘separates’ but, instead, they become combination garments with which to create new silhouettes and lines,” says Goodrum, “[and] the same goes for the dress.”
The combo-outfit, which has been worn throughout fashion history by figures such as early women’s rights advocate Amelia Bloomer, Ginger Rogers, Gwen Stefani and others who’ve questioned traditional gender roles, now signifies a new era of gender-neutral wear.
For Goodrum, it is a sign that “post-genderised dressing” has arrived. “When once, quite neatly, trousers were considered menswear and dresses were exclusively for women, there have always been outliers that have challenged that order,” she says. “Stewart’s look points to the complexities of gender in modern life.”