Some fabrics are more charismatic than others. If Cotton were a guest at the party, he’d be boring, pleasant enough, but unlikely to make a good joke. Chiffon would require a lot of maintenance, demanding in diet and shadowy in open flames. None of this uncertain behavior, however, would emanate from the velvet. Velvet is the party – and never again this season, with established designers like Armani, Burberry and Tom Ford, as well as newer names like Eftychia, Bernadette and TooGood, all providing imaginative interpretations of the fabric. Velvet’s reputation as a royal fabric is well documented.
Originating from the pile armor developed in Egypt as early as 2000 BC, the materials and methods needed to create velvet have been so complex for centuries that they were only available to the very wealthy. Henry VIII is said to have lined his cabinet with it, but it’s not a thought that might make you fall in love with buying a velvet dress, so let’s move on.
This season, a slew of velvet and adjacent velvet options abound to suit every age, budget and taste. As the holiday season approaches, even the most velvet averse person would do well to reevaluate their doubts. No, it doesn’t have to look cheesy or funereal. Yes, there are a myriad of ways to wear it that are neither expensive nor constricting. Dramatic, decadent and timelessly elegant, velvet is the fabric we deserve. We did not survive the pandemic to dress in linen. We survived to wrap ourselves in velvet, like queens.
It is the first garment that most of us think of when we think of velvet, and the one that undoubtedly does the most justice to the fabric. History is full of iconic velvet dresses: my favorites include the red velvet dress worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939, designed by Walter Plunkett) and the dark blue velvet fishtail dress worn by Princess Diana when she danced with John Travolta at a state ball (1985, designed by Victor Edelstein).
As models Irina Shayk and Amber Valetta recently illustrated, the wavy silhouette of a velvet fishtail dress is unmistakably elegant. But velvet dresses aren’t just for formal occasions: thanks to labels like Batsheva, Simone Rocha and The Vampire’s Wife, they’ve also been reinvented for daywear.
Nor do you have to worry that daytime velvet is a better experience than wearing a Hazmat suit on a tropical beach, as many of its latest incarnations are lighter, while some are even machine washable at 30 ° C. On the main street, Zara is channeling the spirit of ’80s Yves Saint Laurent with a selection of black velvet mini dresses (starting at £ 32.99). To be worn with stiletto heels, 15 denier tights and red lipstick.
The trouser suit
Recently seen on models and actresses Iman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Phoebe Waller Bridge and Gigi Hadid, the velvet trouser suit is definitely having a moment. Which is fine, unless you’re terrified of looking like Austen Powers, the international mystery man from the 1997 film whose vaguely ridiculous appearance is definitely not on anyone’s fall / winter moodboard.
Don’t be discouraged. In addition to being more indulgent with the body, a trouser suit offers the opportunity to experiment with color more easily than you might be comfortable with a suit. It’s a chance to experiment with rich, jewel-toned shades such as emerald, sapphire or ruby, which I would recommend wearing with nothing more fussy than a t-shirt, blouse or tank top underneath.
Add stilettos for the evening (or day, if you have the stamina), or go against the grain and pair with white sneakers. We can wear them again now that Liz Truss has left the building. In fact, I’d barely be surprised if her incumbent performed in velvet dress and trainers before Christmas was over.
Those who fondly remember the ’90s heyday of brands like English Eccentrics and Fenn Wright and Manson will already be in the right place to embrace this season’s trend for velvet coats. While the smart bespoke version is its more classic iteration (the latest being from The Row), those with a more bohemian trend might consider adding some embellishment.
Wolf & Badger has a selection of embroidered styles (starting at £ 149) that would look good with jeans as they would dress for the evening with wide leg velvet palazzo pants. Still too much Laurence Llewelyn Bowen? Liane Wiggins, Matches’ womenswear manager, recommends trying a velvet jacket instead. “A velvet tuxedo is a great way to update your tailoring for the holiday season – the Tom Ford and Bella Freud versions are selling very well.”
Those of a more dramatic character may also want to try a velvet cape, although they will have to be quick: Wiggins notes that The Vampire’s Wife version is already sold out. Trust Zara to provide you with a short version (£ 19.99) or rent a vintage Anna Sui design from Hurr (starting at £ 125).
You might, with some justification, feel that a jumpsuit is a complicated enough garment without the added burden of being made from bulky velvet. But that would mean neglecting the fluidity of its new viscose silk versions. Nrby’s suits are a case in point. “Our velvet stretches beautifully, so it can be customized, but it also has the softness needed for a jumpsuit,” says Nrby designer Jo Hooper. “It’s the combination of functional style with such a luxurious fabric that it works. I wear mine without a belt with slingbacks or low-heeled silver sneakers, but it can be laced up and dressed in heels and jewels galore.
Hooper reports that velvet is the best-selling category in all styles, a fact which he partly attributes to the fact that it’s still not cool enough for knitwear or coats. “Velvet also holds color very well and comes in such sumptuous shades. Our warm coral was a surprise hit, and our blackberry is also selling well – it’s a flattering shade of purple that’s a cool alternative to black. “
The velvet separates
Where to start if you feel overwhelmed with choice and the belief that by wearing velvet everyone will assume that you have a pretty high opinion of yourself? This is a real concern for those whose nature is to blend in, even when they want to stand out. With the exception of sequins, few fabrics invite comments as reliably as velvet.
If you’re feeling a little shy, go for a velvet garment – pants, a T-shirt – and soften the impact by mixing it with other less fine fabrics like denim or jersey. “Velvet is a very versatile material that can be worn high or low to take you anywhere – an advantage when everyone is trying to buy less,” says Olivia Van Halle, whose blue velvet “Bibi” slip dress is one example. day-to-night garment that can be worn in layers under a chunky cardigan or worn with heels for a night out.
Supermodel Kate Moss recently showed up at a book launch wearing a floor-length dark purple velvet skirt worn with a simple black sleeveless vest, offering a carefree velvet lesson.
Try these …
Clockwise from top left: turtleneck dress, £ 225, (puzzle-online.com) Silk velvet jumpsuit, £ 325, (toasted bread) Platform sandals, £ 59, whitestuff.com); Pants, £ 99.95, (massimodutti.com); Velvet blazer, £ 298, (reiss.com)