2013 Style Forecast: Relaxed With A Chance of Apocalypse, Retro Still Not Dead

We’re starting the future, yet again – whether we like it or not – and this does impact what we wear and how we think about it. And at the start of 2013, change is in the warm and windswept air. Ten years ago “retro” as we know it was happening for everyone. Now the fashion-forward are starting to dress like extras from the last two scenes of Cloud Atlas.

Sonmi-451 and her fellow fabricants from Cloud Atlas are on trend with vivid nails, a shot of hair color, and antidepressant beverages.

Times are still tough, but instead of “homeland security” our anxiety is Soft Apocalypse-style.  Global warming and geological crises are impacting our daily lives. Our diets are changing, slowly but surely. And the madness of governments seems more normal to us, even as we distance ourselves from it by packing our own “go” bags.

A half-day reviewing December’s fashion glossies didn’t bring my retinas much retro. Tellingly, the only mag showcasing a retro summer look for us Antipodeans was Redbook. Magazines from the winter side of the world presented go-bag ready styles – sporty, survival-ish quilted puffers and military-style coats are edging out structured wool coats. Huge, sleek totes and doctor’s bag-style satchels are in, one promising the comfort of being able to carry everything, the other giving the bag’s carrier some borrowed intellectual oomph.

(Postapocalyptic fashion…in a world where we forage amongst the rags, there seems to be an awful lot of Manic Panic hair dye left. And we all want to bare our newly honed abs! I prefer Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor for my post-societal-collapse looks, thanks.)

In blogland, some of my favorite style bloggers are relaxing from high glam into more bohemian looks. Hair is long and ruffled, or in caplike pixie cuts; pendants swing, bib  necklaces clank; shoes sprout spikes and defensive excrescences in all directions. Wardrobe Oxygen’s literal wardrobe got totaled by Hurricane Irene in 2011. What New Yorkers wore during Hurricane Sandy is uncannily similar to what Wellingtonians wear, um, most of the time. “When the world goes to hell perfume can help one feel as though things are at least normal,” says Unseen Censer in this post on Perfume for a hurricane after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

NZ designers Cybele and Ricochet have blazed the path here. Free People (free shipping to NZ!), and Black Milk are in the forefront of this new relaxation.  Gudrun Sjoden and Pink Chicken are more modest/sexless-in-that-“quirky!” way manifestations of this. I am impressed with the way style blogger Wardrobe Oxygen makes this look achievable. Stuff in New Zealand has a crisp little summary of 2013 styles that is worth reading if you care about fashion.

So, is Miss Retro dead? 1940s to early 1960s style retro is now more accessible than it’s ever been. Makeup, dresses, shoes, instructions, hairdressers, you name it. Rockabilly and pin-up subculture has swelled to the point that we ought to fret about the fine line between “icon” and “clone.”  I have a few 50s-influenced looks and finds ready for this year, but I’ve worked to keep away from the standard rockabilly palette of red-blue-black-white. Sometimes with the help of a vat of fabric dye! Here’s some of my favorite hues and prints from my wardrobe – some classically retro, some not.

Just visualize me wearing it, OK? I had a hard day.

Retro flavored fabrics, from the 50s to the 70s. From the left: “cabbage tree” cotton dress, grey leopard print, electric 70s silk, a 50s classic, marbled 70s silk, and the dyed-by-me purple and turquoise hues of full skirts.

And I am opening my mind to Ms. Retro, with inspiration from everywhere but the ’50s cocktail lounge. Zippers and velocipede-riding ensembles from the Victorians, embroideries and voiles from the Edwardians, lissom 20s and 30s lines (hi, Giant Pants of the 30s), later 60s and 70s kookiness. I’ve had a preview of BeHome in Miramar – they’re stocking sleeker tunics in linen, in shades of navy, coral, and white that channel the 30s and the late 60s at the same time.

Where retro style and the apocalypse meet – besides the 1950s nuclear bunker, of course – is in their rejection of “fashion.” Right now, several of my intelligent friends are formally withdrawing from buying any new clothes in 2013, rejecting fast fashion consumerism. Other intelligent friends have officially (and unexpectedly) declared their allegiance to retro styles, for individual reasons underlined by perplexity at the demands of current styles.

Sensing this withdrawal from the artificial fray, some tastemakers declare fashion trends themselves entirely passe. A timely dodge that lets us all concentrate on what suits us best in between the changes of 2013.


  1. Wow, you’ve summed up my current attitude to fashion (well, more ‘clothing’ really, since I’ve turned my back on most fashion magazines as they were making me sad and angry) so well, this is the perfect ‘How to dress in 2013’! Now that I have to walk part of my journey to work over a hill where so many brollies meet their doom I was actually thinking of starting a photography project based on their undignified last resting places, my coats consist of a Barbour wax jacket (with hood) and my new extravagant purchase, an All Saints coat which is part Soviet greatcoat, part Agatha Christie cape, in ‘Fellowship Cloak’ green with a silesia lining. All Saints are super pricey, but their clothing isn’t trend driven, so I could happily wear it several years from now and not look ‘last season’.
    I’ve always been a bit of a butterfly with my ‘look’, although I seem to have settled on tunic dress with leggings for winter, and trousers/blouse or knee-length dress for summer. There are so many elements of retro dressing that I love, but my old-fashioned-looking face can make an authentic retro outfit look a bit costumey, so I’ll often try to add an incongruous element, like wearing a modern jersey dress and leggings, but doing victory rolls in my hair, or wearing a dainty vintage dress with manly shoes and loud jewellery. This does seem to be very much a London Look at the moment, as if every other girl in the East End has been on a whirlwind trip in the TARDIS and hasn’t had time to swap her accessories over.


    • Aaaaah, yes, this! I did notice that the British fashion magazines were particularly aggressive and unrealistic, full of expensive jewels and overexquisite fur capelets like something for “The Hunger Games” elite.

      Wellington is also death to umbrellas. I’d like to get a Senz umbrella, designed in Delft, and see if that survives.

      There are so many elements of retro dressing that I love, but my old-fashioned-looking face can make an authentic retro outfit look a bit costumey,

      This, as well! That’s why I mix it up, too (also I find that excessive retro styling damages my hair.) I love your London style summary.


      • I like the upscale photoshoots that are so over the top they’re more like a magazine-based work of art (Tim Walker is a favourite), but when they’re just basically adverts for brands no one can afford, it’s just a waste of ink. I find the fetishization of people with a lot of money and not a lot else to contribute a little odd too.
        I went on a super retro hair styling course and picked up great tips for adding volume to my very fine hair without damaging it; I’ve bought a Denman boar-bristle brush (they’re the affordable alternative to Mason-Pearson) and a backcombing brush, they’re much more gentle on the hair than an ordinary brush, and brushing the hair against the palm of the hand stops it from frizzing up! I’ve also been doing my hair in a ‘set’ overnight with setting lotion or mousse and foam rollers rather than heat styling, more volume and less frizz and split ends. Although sleeping in the curlers might put a lot of people off!


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