c.2014 New York Times News Service
c.2014 New York Times News Service
NEW YORK — Many people regard the Irwin Shaw 1939 short story, “Girls in Their Summer Dresses,” through the haze of affectionate nostalgia, but its plot is really quite devastating. A young married couple, Frances and Michael, take a post-breakfast walk down lower Fifth Avenue that soon goes south metaphorically as well when she observes him checking out other women. They repair to a bar and knock back three glasses of brandy apiece while the husband, prodded by his wife, expounds on his greed for the bountiful “picnic” of female pulchritude on display in New York and she cries hopelessly.
Seventy-five years after that story was first published in The New Yorker, a descendant of the Brevoort, where the couple lived, still stands. But their argument would probably play out not over Courvoisier but coffee with hearts etched into the foam on top, or complicated green juices. If Michael’s leers turned into actual overtures, he might be excoriated on Twitter for street harassment (#HollaBack); safer to examine his quarry on Tinder instead. Frances might be too engrossed in her own iPhone to even notice.
Outside, though, the girls in their summer dresses stride on. Even if those dresses are more mishmashes, like the striking one assembled by Abigail Matses, 21, an intern in the home décor department of Good Housekeeping magazine who was en route to meet friends at the Madison Avenue Sant Ambroeus restaurant on a recent sun-dappled Friday afternoon.
Matses was wearing a long, stiff pink sateen skirt that ballooned slightly at the waist, into which was tucked a cross-hatched shirt. This she accessorized with glittery pointed flats that suggested Dorothy Gale’s silver shoes (in L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” not the George Cukor movie version), a jumble of golden charms around her neck and, for a purse, a vintage rattan lightship basket festooned with a seashell.
Matses, from north of Boston and an aspiring style blogger, had unsurprisingly documented the ensemble on Instagram, in a series that included shots of her in a stars-and-stripes bikini and manicures in various Jordan Almonds colors.
“I’m overdressed all the time,” she said.
In that she is an exception. As carefully groomed personal expression reaches an all-time high online, the main fashion trend visible on the streets of Manhattan this summer has been unstudied casualness, almost as if real life has become just a liminal place to get through before the next occasion of virtual self-display.
There is also, of course, the continued queasy economy, the rise of bicycling, the increase of ladies who lunch at their desks and the surge of the thermometer. Dare one call it much-too-warmcore?
In the old paradigm, girls in their summer dresses floated along, carefree and unencumbered, perhaps balancing the string of a hatbox between thumb and forefinger. But a half-dozen examples stopped on Madison Avenue were laden with overstuffed satchels, often in multiple.
Farah Abad, 39, of Queens, had one for her gym togs and one, by Balenciaga, filled with papers pertaining to her job as the private-events director for Jean-Georges Management. Her dress, simple and black with a large flower splashed down the front, was from Mango.
Giulia Zuanni, 33, an actress from Verona, Italy, who has been staying on the Upper West Side, was lugging a blue backpack frame and a leather handbag into which she could easily fit her Toto, a Maltese/poodle named Paradiso who coordinated with her cream-colored sundress.
“They like it when it matches my dog,” she said dryly of her outfit, referring to male admirers. On Zuanni’s feet, as if to outrun these men like Atalanta, were pink-swooshed Nikes.
This combination was in sync with selling patterns observed at Intermix, the chain of boutiques headquartered in the Flatiron district, by Khajak Keledjian, its chief executive. Keledjian said he was selling lots of boyish shoes such as sneakers (albeit ones by Valentino) that cut the sweetness of long, flowing fabrics.
“They say, ‘Ugly is the new pretty,’ in this business,” Keledjian said. “I’m like, ‘What are you thinking?’ And then it’s so cute.”
Doing even better than dresses, he added, were monochromatic shirts and skirts in different patterns, along with combinations of crop tops, boyfriend sweaters and shorts.
“We don’t like anything matchy-matchy,” he said.
And Generation Etsy would seem to agree. But for Patricia Bradley, a lawyer from Huntington, New York, who did not want to give her age (“Call me mature,” she said), a dress is the best way not to think about what you’re wearing too much.
“It’s like a onesie,” she said, smoothing down the shift she was wearing with kitten heels, stockings and a long strand of pearls.
Bradley was heading uptown to see the Charles James exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum Anna Wintour Costume Center with her husband, James Bradley, a more gallant version of Shaw’s Michael who, despite the brilliant parade passing by, had eyes only for his wife.
And did he prefer dresses as well?
Bradley didn’t miss a beat. “Not on myself,” he said.