There are few self-expressions more personal than what you dress yourself in. Fashion as a form of identity is an ancient concept, one that's steeped in politics, class divides, and artistic groups. Throughout history, fashion has mirrored these cultural movements and the more recent shifts that have shaken up modern society (Coronavirus, BLM protests, the #MeToo movement, to name a few) are unquestionably transforming the way individuals are thinking about their style. You've probably noticed that over the past couple of years, there has been an increased emphasis on clothing that doesn't restrict. Natural fabrics made from sustainable and ethical sources, flowing, romantic shirt silhouettes, and other feel-good staples are part of the current palette. Unsurprisingly, this isn't the first time that individuals have longed for a return to ease and nature — the Pre-Raphaelites shared many of the same sentiments, which might be part of the explanation behind why you're seeing so many ethereal blouses as of late.
"The Pre-Raphaelite period is a mid to late 19th-century movement started by painters, poets, and writers that looked back to a romanticized medieval past to inspire the present before the painter Raphael, hence Pre-Raphaelite," Fashion and Design Historian Michelle Finamore tells TZR. "The term Pre-Raphaelite generally refers to a painting style and the fashion and design corollary was the Aesthetic Movement, which gradually morphed into the Arts and Crafts Movement of the later 19th century and early 20th century."
Finamore explains that key fashion characteristics of Pre-Raphael fashion include natural dyes, handmade craftsmanship, loose-fitting dresses with an ethereal quality, pale colors, and plenty of volume. "The Arts and Crafts Movement was embodied in the work and thinking of Englishman William Morris," she explains. "Morris and his followers were reacting to a rapidly changing, industrialized world and were seeking a return to nature. They were great proponents of fashion and design that used organic form as inspiration." Specifically, the colors Pre-Raphaelites embraced were white and pale greens, yellows, and blues. "These colors were considered closer to nature and were a reaction against the aniline and synthetic dyes that were introduced to the world in the 1850s," Finamore continues. "So this too was a reaction against industrialization."
"In a way, much like the late 19th century, we are again confronting the fast-paced advancement in technology and our own constant connection and obsession with life on our phone and on our laptop," Finamore argues. "As people confront a topsy-turvy world and so many uncertainties regarding the future of the environment, public health, and now, the economy, it is no surprise that people are craving the coziness, warmth, and comfort of an idealized world, and one that looks back to a former time."
Merlette Founder Marina Cortbawi is one designer whose ethos is rooted in Pre-Raphaelite mentalities. "Merlette very much aligns with this romantic and free-flowing aesthetic. The Pre-Raphaelites wore clothes to move in. They rejected the corsetry and restrictive waistlines and crinolines, and Merlette is a modern evolution of this," Cortbawi tells TZR. "It's about newfound freedom and empowerment in your clothes."
Though 2020 style is distinctly different than that of the 19th-century, you can still draw inspiration from Pre-Raphs with the current trend of flowy, artisanal tops. "I would style a Pre-Raph top very simply over a high waisted wide-leg cotton pant, worn loose or tucked in if a waistline is desired," Cortbawi suggests. Ahead, see a few modern takes on Pre-Raphaelite fashion and add one of these idyllic summer tops to your closet.
Romantic Top Styling: With Jeans
Pair a fluid white shirt with bell sleeves and pleating details with a pair of jeans and low-heel mules. For an especially unique take, leave a few of the buttons undone at the bottom to create more movement.
Romantic Top Styling: Cool And Casual
A flowy white top with puff sleeves and smocked cuffs is the perfect antitode to I-have-nothing-to-wear kind of days. Dress it down, dress it up — it'll always be a winning piece.
Romantic Top Styling: Dressed Up
A big bell sleeve, a bold waist sash, delicate braiding — all of these details can lend your Pre-Raph top an artisanal touch.
Romantic Top Styling: Cropped Chic
While Pre-Raphaelites weren't exactly wearing crop tops, the neckline and voluminous sleeves on this blouse feel subtly reminiscent of the period.
Romantic Top Styling: Night-Out Style
While Pre-Raphs rejected corsetry, they also embraced a medieval aesthetic and this laced top with puff sleeves is a nuanced take on the silhouette.
Romantic Top Styling: Sweet Smocking
As Finamore mentioned, handmade details were a hallmark of Pre-Raph fashion and this ornate smocking is a stylish riff on this idea.
Romantic Top Styling: Soft Cotton
When in doubt, an ethereal, loose-fitting top in white or pale colors is the ideal way to embrace Pre-Raph style.