Over the course of the past few weeks, I entered my mid-twenties, got married, and took a long internet-free vacation—a collective impetus for self-evaluation if there ever was one. While my resulting introspection has diverged down countless avenues (Is age more of a number or a feeling? Do I actually like clogs now?), it reached a crescendo when I started thinking about Prada.
Like some sort of sartorial metronome, Prada seems to measure out the collective beat of each season without ever being drowned out by the surrounding music. Take, for example, the brand’s Spring 2008 collection in collaboration with artist James Jean which captured the waifish spirit of aughts fashion and transported it to a mystical world of moss-clad nymphs. Or the Fall 2017 collection which largely flew under the trend radar but acknowledged with all its knitted mohair and floppy fur shoes that the world seemed to be in need of a cozy, collective hug.
While I’ve always been a big Prada fan, I’ve previously avoided leaning fully into the Prada look. I’ve scoured eBay for a few pairs of perfect Prada shoes, because my penchant for shoe design means that I treat my closet like I’m building the world’s least spacious shoe museum, but beyond that, the brand has always seemed a bit untouchable. It’s meant for grown women, elegant women who have their shit together, women who temper the kookiness of their Pop Art-intarsia fur coat with a sleek blowout and a purse that is probably not full of Hot Cheetos crumbs. In the midst of my many personal sea changes, now seemed like a better time than ever to try on this Prada womanhood for size. I delved into some of my favorite looks from the brand’s archives and my own closet to produce a handful of potentially grown-up looks below.
#1: S/S 2019
I wore variations on this outfit all summer, sans knee-highs, but only because I forgot (until now) that I purchased them back in May! Usually I’m not one for an all-black outfit, but there’s something perfect about these school uniform-esque proportions. They soften the outfit with a light dose of nostalgia, which makes it feel a bit more “me” than it would otherwise.
#2: F/W 2015, Principessa
I love the formality of Prada. As I’ve grown into my twenties, I have realized that I am someone who unabashedly loves dressing up. I held true to this for all of my early teen years, but in college I sometimes felt the need to make myself seem palatably “chill” in a pair of Carhartts and a sweatshirt. Outfits like the one above bring me so much more joy and always tug on my heart strings, reminding me why I so loved fashion in the first place. Now, who is willing to lend me a pair of butter-yellow opera gloves?
#3: F/W 2014, Slip + Shearling
Ugh, this combination of a silk slip and a big, slouchy leather-and-shearling number is my pinnacle of the sexiest outfit ever. There’s something about the flimsiness of a quasi-undergarment against the sturdiness of the coat that begs questions of what it means to be dressed versus undressed, vulnerable versus protected, but I digress. How beautiful and unexpected is this distinctly Prada, intentionally mismatched color combination of plum jam, ketchup, and mustard? This look almost makes me miss my big shearling jacket that has been banished to storage until at least October (we spent too much time together this past winter), but a clash of red and green will do for early fall.
#4: F/W 2019, Franken-Outfit
When I first caught sight of His Royal Highness Jeff Goldblum on Instagram in this season’s Prada button-down printed with Frankenstein, I nearly smashed my phone with excitement. I love horror movie imagery, and I actually spent years tracking down this Christopher Kane T-shirt because I deeply regretted not buying it when I had the chance in 2013 (thank you, Depop). I love how this runway look is also a Frankenstein creation of sorts, cobbled together from lace, fluff, and alternating bands of fabric.
#5: S/S 2014, Bra Top and Tube Socks
Lucky for me, Elizabeth recently coined a term for exactly what is happening here: reverse layering. Again, sultriness (exposed underwear) is contrasted with awkward utility (athletic tube sock-leg warmers), an unbeatable pairing. Plus! More deliciously strange color combinations. Maybe Prada is the peanut butter-and-pickle sandwich of designers? Something that sounds wrong on paper but is perfectly balanced on the palate? Full disclosure, I’ve never had a peanut butter-and-pickle sandwich, but I wore my bra on the outside last night and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I could keep digging into the Prada archive forever (I remember staying up late on our shared family desktop computer, perusing photos of these S/S 2010 crystal shoes for so long it felt like their image was permanently burned into my retinas–ditto for these flame ones), but stepping back from the brand’s gloriously detailed minutiae is ultimately the key to understanding its real, enduring power: balance. For every slinky dress, there’s a hefty sock; for every tailored shirt, there’s a novelty shoe; for every dusty blue, there’s a swipe of cherry red. This precarious ratio is what makes Prada such a good barometer of the wide world women’s fashion. Each season contains so many expressions of femininity–soft, sharp, serious, playful–without flattening them into a single trend.
This balance is also what makes me feel that I am still not quite ready to become a Prada woman. When I tried on each of the above outfits for my now-husband to photograph, I confidently proclaimed to him: “This is what I’ll be wearing all fall!” But now September has come and (nearly) gone, and I haven’t touched a single one of them. I don’t feel ready yet. It’s a foreign feeling, because I am not usually one to save things–I’ll wear a new pair of shoes straight out of the shop or, say, glimpse something at a fashion show and jump to recreate it the very next day. I’m still making space, however, for all the nuanced expressions of my own femininity. Some of them are not yet ready to emerge. Maybe I’ll see them on the runway before I even recognize them within myself. It’s nice to have something to look forward to, isn’t it? To the onward march of time, to the change of seasons, to becoming the woman I want to be, to finding my place in the world of Prada–even if that means bringing some Hot Cheetos crumbs along for the ride.
Photos via Vogue Runway and Ruby Redstone.