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Frump up the volume

Kitchen-sink chic is here to stay, but that doesn’t have to mean looking like Ena Sharples. Alexander Fury shows you how to pull off the dowdy look

Fashion is fickle. It has a habit of twisting the negative into a positive. Witness the latest fashion no-no to become a resounding yes – frumpiness. Below the knee skirts, heavy knitwear, a subdued, even dismal colour palette and materials like boiled wool, felt and astrakhan. All were prevalent.

Combined with some of the ugliest shoes known to mankind – either breeze-block heeled or pancake flat with snub toes – and you have next season’s key look. It smacks of libraries; of charity shops. It smacks of the woefully unfashionable. Like I said, fashion’s fickle. For winter, looking “Out” is decidedly “In”.

Leading the pack is Rochas, where creative director Marco Zanini has made frumpiness his leitmotif. Over the past few years, we have been treated to such dowdy delights as sack-shaped, pilled- angora skirts, sludge-coloured ribbed cardigans and marigold-style gloves with hairy knuckles of fur. All sounds frightfully… well, frightful. But Rochas’ sales are also up 48 per cent on the season. Evidently, there’s a market for it.

This season, Rochas is joined by labels like Jil Sander, Lanvin and Marni, showing hefty below-the-knee skirts, brogues, oversized coats and prints in dodgy kitchen-sink colours. On the high street, Cos and Asos offer their take on the key principles of frumpiness:  XXL knits, A-line skirts, heavy tweeds and sickly shades of tomato or Air Force Blue.

Ugly. Dowdy. Dodgy. These aren’t the usual words used to sell garments, honestly. But that’s part of the appeal of frumpiness – you have to be in the know. The look isn’t new: Miuccia Prada started it all in the Nineties, her collections awash in brown and vomit-green, prints lifted from Seventies wallpaper. There had been ugly clothes before, of course, but never “ugly chic”.

Those quotation marks are all-important – the key to fashion frumpiness is intention. It’s not without its pitfalls – it’s far too easy to end up looking like an actual typing pool reject rather than the glossed-up glamazon versions that populate Mad Men. You want to look like Tippi Hedren, not Ena Sharples (pictured).

As with so much high fashion, frumpiness isn’t easy to pull off – unless you have the dewy complexion and icy chic of Ms Hedren, it’s easy to look as if you should be rag-rollered and gossiping in a ginnel.

What is pulled off only by teenage models on the catwalk can be pulled apart for everyone else. Replace a clunky brogue with a chunky heel, layer a fine-gauge sweater under a Michelin Man cashmere cardigan and avoid matching said ovoid shape with a rounded skirt. An ode to frump could be as simple as a slightly lower hemline or heavier knit. Indeed, a sensible sweater – like one your nan could have knitted – is a key component for the look. It also keeps you warm in sub-zero British winters. That’s possibly the strange, unique appeal of frumpiness to fashion fans. From flat shoes, to long skirts, to those snuggly sweaters, frumpy chic is all so damn practical. Granny would approve.