When you think of fashion from the '70s and '80s, you might think about bell bottoms, sky-high platforms, Madonna-esque lingerie and rubber bracelets, Olivia Newton-John "Physical," shiny spandex aerobics wear and leg warmers, and the new wave. But for every punk and disco kid trying to subvert the culture of the time, there were people — usually white and upper class — known as "Preppies" in the United States and as "Sloane Rangers" in the United Kingdom that were content with keeping things the way they were, never rocking the boat.
The Sloane Ranger look — which was best characterized by Princess Diana back when she was still Diana Spencer — was coined in 1975 by editors of British magazine Harper's & Queen, and caught on after they published the Official Sloane Ranger Handbook in 1982, a guide that included everything from their choice of hair accessory (a velvet-headband from the ‘60s), to their favorite meals (something called a treacle tart, and spaghetti bolognese). It immediately became a thing.
As described in the book, these young women weren't aristocratic like Diana, but they had an upper middle class background and upheld those values among everything else. They attended university mostly to find a husband, and were anti-intellectuals with a disdain for art, literature, and even science. With no interest to upend the status quo, they instead spent their time in the countryside with their horses, pursuing the simple things in life. But as society evolved, and women worked to reclaim their place in society, these seemingly anti-feminist “Sloane Rangers” seemed to fade away with time. And after decades of being forgotten, their basic style is back — except this time, they’re the ones considered edgy.
Recently, Virgil Abloh went full-Lady Di for his spring 2018 show at Paris Fashion Week, making the strongest case for the return of the Sloanes. But for the past few seasons, their trademark look — the voluminous blouses with ruffle details, the matronly printed dresses, the midi-length plaid skirts, those sandals of varying heel heights with two or three thick straps that you remember seeing at your local JC Penney when you were young — has been trending. It’s something that’s been pioneered by a group of designers from Eastern Europe, a place that has been traditionally had its sense of style mocked, since their shunning of Western culture during Soviet reign meant that they were always behind with recent fashion trends. Then Vetements happened in 2015, and all the clothes and trends that had historically been looked down upon were repackaged and sold through the lens of irony and the so-bad-it's-good energy that's part of our culture (it's also a trend in art).
On the American side, this look was born out of minimalist girls with a larger passion for the pursuit of the arts and crafts, than the stark landscapes of the ‘90s that the term can so often recall. After reaching the pinnacle that was the return of the "mom jean" and matching them with Plimsolls, it's not hard to see them following the path until they get to the oversized linen blazers, long gauzy cotton dresses, their long, mostly-straight going uncombed for a couple days, and not a lot of makeup on their face. It’s the direct opposite of the Kardashian fashion, with their tight latex dresses and full-on contoured faces. But those thoroughbred girls with their patrician noses, equestrian hobbies, and an innate sense of nonchalance that comes only from generations of wealth, have now been repackaged, and are part of a new generation that is interested in subverting — and destroying — the class, race, and gender divides.
But whatever way led us to where we are today, the Sloane Ranger — and its preppy '80s US counterpart — are now an important part of fashion. It's in the shoes by It-designer Mari Guidicelli, in the runways at Creatures of Comfort, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Rachel Comey, Vika Gazinskaya, Vetements, Balenciaga, and even in the accessories (and now ready-to-wear) revolution started by Mansur Gavriel. It's the new evolution of normcore with more than a hint of nostalgia, the patron saint of millennials everywhere, and a reaction to the maximalist energy in our culture, always online, always looking to acquire the newest drop, the most exclusive thing.
Yes, there is a an undercurrent of exclusivity that has probably brought designers to this place. After all, there's nothing more chic in the world of fashion than a sense of "quiet luxury." But it's curious that this progressive aesthetic has found a kindred spirit with a group that very much stood against our modern ideals.
As fashion becomes more “democratized,” in the sense that more and more people are well versed in Fashion and can easily identify the must-have item from every runway show — be it a Balenciaga sneaker or Gucci sunglasses — another side of fashion has responded by seeking that which is rooted in simplicity and anonymity (except of course, we can still identify the newest Mansur coat or Maryam slides). Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that we’re looking back to the style at the end of the Cold War era during a time when much of those feelings seem to permeate our modern life. But we lived through that time and emerged unscathed. Maybe looking back to this time gives us hope we’ll be just as lucky this time around.