Though girlhood has long been a recurring theme in fashion, this year, it has taken over with a new force. From the return of the balletcore aesthetic to the Barbiemania obsession, the fall/winter 2023 trends were all about relics of childhood dressing. Bows are the latest girly trend to take the spotlight.
This season, the cutesy adornments were everywhere: London-based brand Simone Rocha showcased extra-long, dainty ribbon hair accessories, while designer label Balmain took a grandiose approach with XL-sized bows decorating wool sweaters and pussy-bow blouses. Sandy Liang has made the bow motif a signature of the New York-based brand, putting it on everything from classic button-ups and ballet flats to shoulder bags and headbands. (More recently, the label entered the homeware category, which included an entryway rug decked out in one long bow.)
Off the runway, the trend has been spotted on celebs like Olivia Rodrigo, who sported a glitzy Chanel 1994 mini dress adorned with bows on a night out. This came a few months after she was spotted in a Fanci Club bow corset and matching opera gloves at the Driving Home 2 U premiere. At the 2023 Met Gala, Euphoria star Sydney Sweeney donned oversized black bows in her hair and on her Miu Miu gown. During her Down the Drain book tour, Julia Fox wore crisp white bows in her hair. Meanwhile, singer Gracie Abrams has become known for wearing dainty hair bows and headbands during her performances, inspiring fans to take their craft ribbon and turn it into a concert accessory.
Often associated with ballet dancers, school girls, and playing dress-up, bows are a signifier of youth. As such, they are often deemed frivolous. But, back in the day, the bow motif was a utilitarian component of style. Take, for example, the Middle Ages when bows, predominantly made of satin ribbon, were sewn onto women’s and men’s clothing to keep garments in place, according to Summer Anne Lee, a fashion historian and adjunct professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
“It started with a functional purpose, [but] it takes on a two-fold purpose, where bows [are used] to tie something together, but it is also decorative,” says Lee. “They’re part of this youthful prime of your life… a fashion statement associated with femininity.”
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the bow served less of a practical purpose and was used as a status symbol. See: Marie Antionette, the young archduchess-turned-queen, whose hairdresser allegedly spent 20,000 francs on her hair ribbons. Bows continued to be an adornment featured in fashion throughout the 20th century. Princess Diana was an enthusiast for a pussy bow top or a bow tie, while Madonna wore bows as part of her performance costumes. A decade later, the pleated motif returned to style favor in a high-fashion way thanks to Chanel’s iconic Fall/Winter 1995 show featuring satin black bows as hair accessories. The adornment has since frequently appeared on the runways.
Today, with the rise of fashion aesthetics including balletcore, coquette-core, and lovecore, the elegant accessory’s comeback makes sense. In a world where social media apps have opened up the space for women to be ultra-feminine without giving up autonomy, bow embellishments and items of the ilk are trendy once again. “Bows add visual interest and dimension to an outfit,” explains Lee. “To achieve a certain level of femininity, frilliness, and frivolity… bows seem to be the perfect thing.”
Although the adornment’s current comeback has caused a wave of excitement amidst Gen-Z’s more-is-more vibe, those of generations past see bows as a symbol of nostalgia and, Lee says, a longing for youthfulness: “With the internet and social media, girlhood looks very different than it did before. It’s empowering when we grow up and make our own choices to find ourselves and get back in touch with that inner child through what was fashionable when we were children.”
Whether it’s thoughtfully tied onto the end of a braid or worn in place of a necklace, donning a neatly tied bow is a subtle way of communicating girl code.
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