Oh no!” my Mexican mother-in-law, Irma, cried in disbelief after taking me to get a mani-pedi. “Your feet don’t match your hands!” Irma was convinced the salon had made a mistake, and she tried to set it right in rapid-fire Spanish, until I explained that I had purposely chosen the clashing hot pink and orange hues. To Irma, this made no sense. She always wore similar shades of coral on her lips, fingers and toes, and her handbag unfailingly matched her shoes. At the time, I lived in New York and took pride in being cutting-edge—impressing fellow editors in the Condé Nast building was much more important than pleasing my (then) mother-in-law. Ten years later, I found myself doing something peculiar in preparation for my feet’s first outing of the season—I matched them to my hands, postbox red to postbox red. It felt rebellious, fresh and, I liked to think, totally on trend.
It’s not just fingers and toes that are going “matchy-matchy” right now; the theme was all over the spring runways. From Balenciaga to Burberry, designers were turning away from the mad mash-ups that have dominated the past few seasons. The palette was softer: oyster, parchment, blush, white, mint and pale blue. Lines were cleaner and subtler, entire outfits were the same colour. If there were prints, they were usually head to toe.
Gallery: Matching style on and off the runways
“I think people are feeling more comfortable going back to something that looks a bit slicker and doesn’t necessarily convey a multitude of messages in one look,” says Thomas Tait, the London-based Canadian designer. Tait’s spring collection was ethereal, his sharp tailoring in hues shading from blush to white with the odd hit of acid yellow, a marked contrast to last fall’s Formula One brights. He opened with a white skirt paired with a swingy white jacket, a sheer white top and even white shoes. For another look, stripes on a bomber jacket carried through trousers to match.
In many ways this had to happen. Fashion, after all, is cyclical, but there’s also a deeper shift going on. Designers are reacting to the constant bombardment of street-stylers preening for the camera in look-at-me layering. The aesthetic divide was in full display among spring fashion week attendees, who were clearly split between attention-grabbing fancy dress and the adopted power uniforms of working women: low heels, sleek pants and slouchy knits.
“You don’t have to think, Does this go with that? It’s very straight-off-the-runway,” says Marlien Rentmeester, founder of style blog Le Catch. “Photographer Hanneli Mustaparta and Anna Wintour are masters of this trend.” Indeed, a glance through Mustaparta’s street style is an advanced class in matching: bright green from a Stella McCartney floral jacket is echoed in her handbag; a demure skirt suit is paired with monochromatic accessories (see below, second from left). There’s something incredibly exciting about picking things that actually go together.
Some are calling this quiet style revolution the Kate Middleton effect. Her beige-and-navy conservatism nabbed her a prince, after all. But it was her choice of Alexander McQueen for her wedding dress that cemented the fashion world’s perception of her as a style leader. “Kate is flawless, effortless and timeless,” says Hollywood stylist Rachel Zoe. “She’s a role model in so many ways.”
One of Middleton’s favourite new designers, Emilia Wickstead, demonstrates a modern princess aesthetic perfectly. Her dresses, jumpsuits and coats make a statement with their Grace Kelly by way of Palm Springs feel. The lines are simple and the palette decidedly Easter egg. The result is a holiday for the eye and a refresher for the psyche, propelling Hollywood royalty like Cameron Diaz to wear a powder-pink jumpsuit to an Obama fundraiser, and British model Poppy Delevingne to pair an amber lace top with a matching midi-length skirt for the 2014 Elle Style Awards.
“Once you’ve found a palette that suits you, invest in timeless separates,” advises Leila Yavari, the fashion director of Stylebop.com. “Tonal dressing is about mixing different shades of the same colour in an artful way, so don’t be too concerned with making everything match perfectly. For inspiration, have a look at Mark Rothko’s paintings.”
This tonal approach works for nails as well. After veering from my usual mismatched mani-pedi, I sought reassurance from nail guru Nonie Creme, the founder of posh polish company Butter London, who’s launching an eponymous line of cosmetics come 2015. “Right now I like the idea of not directly matching lips and tips,” says Creme. “Everyone expects a strong nail with a strong lip, but what about a sheer wash of colour on your lips and two to three shades darker on the nail? If you do use the same shade, then add a glitter, holographic or matte topcoat to nails so that the colour family is the same, but the finish is different.” In a sense, Creme’s words ring true for matchy-matchy as a whole. It’s all about finding a little sense of self, and play. After all, who’d want her mother-in-law to entirely approve of her outfit?