Posted by: apopalyptic | 03/07/2010

Putting the Rough in Ruffles

I’m going to attempt a bit of fashion etymology for a moment, in a definition of: the ruffle.

The first recorded use of the word “ruffle” to mean “A strip of lace or other fine material, gathered on one edge and used as an ornamental frill on a garment, esp. at the wrist, breast, or neck” is, according to the OED, in 1707. But, it seems like the usage picked up in the mid 1800s. See, smack dab in the middle of that century, the sentence: “A little bit of lace ruffle is gathered about the neck by a blue ribbon.”

Now, follow: this sentence was written during the Victorian Era, and as everything gets recycled in popular culture, we are in the midst of a Steampunk folly that could be seen as a revival from the late-80s/early-90s, but is, essentially, a throwback to the longest reign in British history. Victoria is pretty huge right now; case in point: Emily Blunt is up for an Oscar tomorrow for playing the Monarch in her youth. Local Hipsters are going on Tweed Rides, wearing their Victorian finest while riding bikes in the Atlas District. In Denver, the Steampunk movement has collided with the Snowboarders for some very edgy party wear. And, Vancouver, home of the genre’s greatest writer William Gibson, just hosted the world at the XXI Winter Olympics. With these givens, I can assume that the Victorian Style will be everywhere, and not just at Anthropologie. In fact, I think I would say that the Victorian Style crosses over with Apocalypse Style.

In fashion, if the left side of the equation is something like [hipster (Steampunk + Victoria)/ the 21st Century], then the right side of the equal sign may in fact, be: the ruffle.

Danika posted a link to this JCrew sweater to my facebook page under the subject line: “you know this is what ruffles look like in the Apocalypse.” I sure do! In fact, last fall I bought a dark grey ruffle tank top at the JCrew store in Pentagon City, and just bought a navy blue ruffle tank top from the gap. It is important to note: I hate ruffles. Or, I should say, the traditional, harlequin ruffled collars and cuffs that mimic the type of Victorian ruffle. I had a top like this back in the 3rd grade that I wore with navy blue velvet knickers that I thought was the cutest outfit of all time. Or, think the Seinfeld Puffy Shirt. So! Wrong!

What I do like about the Ruffles of the New Millennium is that they tend to be edgier, unfinished, deconstructed, and often made out of material that doesn’t starch up like those awful ruffles of yore.

Here is a photo of me in my favorite ruffle tank top:

photo by Abigail

They are almost more like tiers than ruffles, which may be part of the appeal. They do not serve as a frame for the wrists or neck. This ruffle is more like a simulacrum– the idea of the traditional, Victorian Era ruffle taken apart and re-sewn into a less formal, more flattering (if they are in the right place then they hide things that shouldn’t see the light of day and accentuate the things that should) and comfortable.


  1. I regret to inform you that navy blue velvet knickers will figure prominently in the post-apocalyptic world.

    • I wore these with knee- high socks that had a crayon print. So not the Apocalypse.

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