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Fashion wouldn’t be fashion if it didn’t throw us off every once in a while. And so it’s no surprise that the boldest, most attention-grabbing, out-there trend in womenswear this (and next) season is not, as one might expect, daring cuts or provocative silhouettes, but garb that covers the body almost entirely.

Behold the prairie dress. First seen on a few Spring 2018 runways last year – from Dior to Ulla Johnson, Stella McCartney to Mulberry – the style really came into its own during the recent whirlwind of fashion weeks, starting with a widely acclaimed showcase by lawyer-turned-designer Batsheva Hay at New York Fashion Week, whose latest looks from her line, Batsheva, took over a Tribeca diner.

The presentation had a pre-Raphaelite-meets-Orthodox Judaism vibe to it: Laura Ashley-esque floral and gingham prints over high necks, buttoned-up ruffly blouses and ankle-length hems – an aesthetic Hay has been honing since launching her brand two years ago. It felt positively old-fashioned, but also very much in tune with the demand for sensible dressing and reserved femininity of recent years.

The latest collection from Diane von Furstenberg draws inspiration from the prairie dress trend

That same aesthetic direction was seen at Diane von Furstenberg, in the shape of a high-necked, billow-sleeved, belted dress in a graphic line print that was a highlight of the brand’s show. It also appeared in a contemporary variation at Coach, with models sporting frilled dresses paired with biker jackets and earrings made from forks, for a cool, grungier mood. Theory was filled with what Vogue US described as ‘away-from-the-body’ shapes, spanning relaxed dresses, full-skirted midi skirts and tops that looked relaxed despite their apparent austerity. Raf Simons did his own interpretation for Calvin Klein 205W39NYC, reimagining the conservative design in mint, green, and black-stripes, with a wide, ruffle-trimmed collar.

Elsewhere, Erdem, a brand that’s long played with Victorian-inspired silhouettes and whose pre-fall collection last year already had some Little House on the Prairie references, elevated the flowing look to new heights in London, with a series of ankle-grazing, flutter-sleeved offerings that were the clothing equivalent of modern-day romanticism.

Natacha Ramsay-Levi’s latest collection for Chloé presented prairie-inspired looks

In Paris, Natacha Ramsay-Levi’s fourth collection for Chloé’s Resort 2019 presented a mash-up of Western meets prairie that included fluttering flares and longer hems, carrying over the designer’s silhouette of choice from her debut show with the house last season.

Even less established designers embraced the trend: in Copenhagen — one of the most interesting new fashion cities to have emerged in recent years— Danish designer Cecilie Banhsen displayed a similar vibe with clothes that were voluminous, with ballon sleeves, full skirts and loosely tied bows.

That the ‘frumpy’ mood has become so ubiquitous is a sign that prairie clothes are not just a one-off, but, possibly the expression of a new sartorial direction for many designers.

What the look stands for, and why these fashion houses are embracing it (as well as brands like Zara, COS, Whistles and The Kooples), is a provocation of sorts. Despite the somewhat out-of-place feel it exudes in 2018 — or, better, exactly because of it — the prairie aesthetic wants to be a counterpoint to mainstream fashion, big logos and streetwear, which often make the wearer anonymous. By way of being gentle and modest, puffed shoulders and floor-length dresses do the exact opposite: they stand out. They are unapologetic but not brash, grown-up but still tongue-in-cheek because of their frilly prints and exaggerated details.

Dior’s new-season looks cover the body almost entirely

Their further appeal is in speaking of a woman who dresses for herself and not the male gaze, something that’s resonating now more than ever among like-minded female shoppers worldwide. In fact, this modest fashion might well be today’s new power dressing.

Need some more convincing to give prairie a try? The dowdy dress is also incredibly easy to style — no doubt another reason why many have fallen in love with it. Its sartorial heft – be it through prints or ruffles — means understated boots, flats or mules work best with it, as do simple, monochromatic jewellery and bags. Who doesn’t love a fashion no-brainer?