As I take to my keyboard to comment on the trainer takeover of the semi-formal dress code I’ve observed in the public forum over the past week, I can’t help but feel a little bit like the stuck-up countesses in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. A princess and a dame wore practical shoes to a formal event? Quelle horreur! In 2018, swapping heels for trainers should hardly be the shock of the new. And yet, Dame Emma Thompson’s choice of white Stella McCartney sneakers to receive her damehood at Buckingham Palace made the news. As did the white Nike Air Vapormax Explorers, which Crown Princess Mary of Denmark paired with an ankle-length Mark Tan dress and a DVF clutch on a recent state visit to Italy.
The face-off with heels isn’t news as such. For some time now, stars like Kristen Stewart and Emma Watson have been defying conformist dress codes on the red carpet, rocking up in flats rather than the stilted stilettos, which have constituted women’s formalwear for centuries. In Stewart’s case, it’s created some particularly brilliant moments, like in May this year when she demonstratively took off her sky-high Christian Louboutin heels on the Cannes Film Festival carpet and walked in bar
It’s tempting to view Dame Emma Thompson’s royal footwear move as the Time’s Up era take on when Dame Vivienne Westwood famously forewent wearing knickers under her dress to collect her OBE from the Queen in 1992. If anything related to royal etiquette is seen as the final frontier of the evolution of protocols, palaces are the most impactful arenas to herald societal change. That’s why Denmark’s ever-so chic Crown Princess Mary attracted every camera in Rome on Tuesday when she swapped the nude Prada pumps she’d just worn to an indoor ceremony for those jazzy Nike trainers, for a walk through the Terme di Caracalla.
Obviously, she wasn’t about to brave the terrain of the Roman bath ruins in Prada stilettos – that would be a given for anyone else – but to our mutual preordained understanding of royal dress code, this was still a major statement. Needless to say, the Princess and the Dame’s somewhat bold wardrobe choices are symptomatic of a post-2017 world where gender politics is being questioned to the core of every unwritten conventional law of behaviour. Watching the effects of the zeitgeist materialise as far up in society as the royal institution is refreshing to say the least.
Around the fashion landscape, dress codes are now being questioned like never before, with designers catering to a new generation interpreting ‘smart’, ‘black tie’ and even ‘white tie’ for their own world view. You need only look back at May’s Met Gala arrivals to see that revolution unfold.
In September, a suited-up Timothée Chalamet wore chunky white Alexander McQueen trainers on the red carpet for the premiere of Beautiful Boy, a reminder of the fusty old dress codes men are now breaking with in their own mutiny against stuffy old-world norms.
And even Melania Trump – whose other wardrobe choices on her recent tour of Africa didn’t exactly scream brave new world – rocked a pair of trainers disembarking the unstable portable stairs of a jet; a presidential ritual that historically calls for glamorous dressing. When I was making a booking at Mayfair’s La Petite Maison the other day, I was amused by how they phrase their dress code: “Please note that our dress code is smart casual. No shorts or sportswear. Smart trainers are acceptable.” Brilliantly oxymoronic, I thought the last part adequately served to describe our changing definitions of dress codes.