A common fashion perception used to be that, as the temperature rose, layers were shed. In particular, spring fashion relied heavily on the statement shoe or bag to anchor the season's flimsy fabrics and soft silhouettes. This year, however, designers have, somewhat surprisingly, decreed light outerwear – including jackets, car coats, trenches and other toppers – the new warm-weather accessory.
"It speaks to the maximalist style of dressing that we've been seeing the last couple of seasons," says Suzanne Timmins, senior vice president and fashion director of Hudson's Bay. "A jacket allows for another layer of texture, even if you don't need it for warmth."
This spring, the retailer is chockablock with jackets of varying styles and price points, though Timmins says the key silhouette is the blazer. It is, for the most part, heavily patterned with graphic, floral or geometric prints and figures into every collection from affordable labels such as Jones New York to high-end designer brands like Thakoon.
What is perhaps most remarkable about the spring jacket is how its styling is being interpreted on the street: draped over the shoulders cape-style. It's a look that was first credited to fashion editors, including Joanna Hillman of Harper's Bazaar, Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele of Interview Magazine and Emmanuelle Alt of French Vogue, all of whom have been spotted wearing their toppers in this manner as they travel between tents during the spring presentations. Now, the affectation is creeping into the mainstream, so much so that several designers drew inspiration from it when creating and presenting their spring outerwear looks.
Michael Kors, for instance, practically earmarked the brightly hued coats and jackets in his collection for fashion-industry insiders. "I call it front-row fashion," he said to Vogue.com in September, "because it's going to give people something to put on during the New York shows in February."
He wasn't the only designer with media mastheads in mind when designing for spring. "The way editors wear their jackets nonchalantly propped on their shoulders really struck me," says Joseph Altuzarra, who showed a bevy of structured jackets in his spring 2013 runway presentation. "There's a real sense of ease to their way of dressing."
Altuzarra took it one step further, facilitating "shouldering," as some are calling it, by adding side slits to his jackets so that the wearer can thread her arms through them. These provide an added measure of security, ensuring that the jacket doesn't slip off the shoulders. And to preserve the integrity of the look, he opted for stiffer fabrics such as coated and wrinkled cotton.
"Maintaining the silhouette was definitely part of the consideration in choosing the fabric," he says. "The shorter jackets, which can function as both a structured jacket and a cape, retain the silhouette when the woman is sitting" – in the front row or anywhere else.
For street-style photographers, this sort of styling gives a subject more dimension. "The look adds casual flair while the subject is copping an attitude," says Roslyn Griffith Hall, a Toronto-based stylist who has snapped attendees outside the shows at Paris Fashion Week. But it can also act as a shield. "When [T Magazine style director] Kate Lanphear doesn't want to have her picture taken because she's smoking a cigarette, she slings a jacket over her shoulders, has a slick of silver hair over her eye and walks with authority in that coat," she says. "It's like she's saying that she's not posing for anyone."
It sounds easy enough to drape a jacket over your shoulders and strut, but there are things to consider when pulling off this style. For one thing, the only bag that logistically works with the look is a clutch. For another, the jacket must have structure and a strong shoulder or it simply won't stay on. It also requires a commitment, Timmins says, suggesting that jackets worn this way should be paired with equally bold items such as a statement-making necklace, blouse or belt.
"It's a look that says 'I mean business,' " she says. "You have to carry it off with attitude."