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Spring brings the power of pleats

This summer’s vintage-inspired looks are prolific with pleats. And although we parted ways with the folded fashion staple back in the ‘80s, we shouldn’t be surprised they’re returning.

This summer's vintage-inspired looks are prolific with pleats.

And although we parted ways with the folded fashion staple back in the '80s, we shouldn't be surprised they're returning.

After all, as women's wardrobes return to dressier, yet simple flapper-style silhouettes, it was only a matter of time before contemporary designers found ways to fold pleats — accordion, box, knife, and organ — into our wardrobes again.

"They can make anyone look sophisticated and ladylike," said Candice Caprice, owner of Per Lei Boutique in Media, who could cite pieces with pleats from nearly every designer this spring, from Trina Turke to Diane von Furstenberg. "They add volume without being too bulky. It's just good design."

On skirts, on blouses, in color blocks and in prints, pleats are charming, said Nicole Fischelis, fashion director at Macy's. And there is no such thing as over-pleating; it's totally acceptable to wear a pleated skirt with a pleated blouse.

It was late last summer when I bought a burgundy, tiered pleated frock (reminiscent of Halston's heritage dress) from Chestnut Street's Buffalo Exchange.

The dress has a pleated spaghetti-strap top over a pleated calf-length skirt. It's a longer version of the royal blue dress Sarah Jessica Parker wore in the Sex and The City 2 movie.

That is when I noticed the gathered details slowly edging their way into our fashion consciousness on pastel maxi-skirts and tucked into blush-toned sheer blouses.

But the pleats comeback actually started two years ago when designers Chloe, Zac Posen, Jill Stuart, and J. Mendel sent flowing, pleated maxis down their runways. For some reason, women didn't gravitate toward the tucks.

"People just weren't ready for the change yet," Fischelis said. "Pleats went hand-in-hand with the color trend. And it took a season or two for color to take hold."

Similar to our soft spot for color, forecasters say the current pleats pull has a lot to do with the springlike weather we enjoyed in winter — and fashion's playfully seductive vibe this year.

Pleats' irresistible ways date to the days of the ancient Egyptians, says Clare Sauro, curator of the historic costume collection at Drexel University, when men and women wore floor-length robes, or chitons, with fine pleats throughout the skirts and bodice. In the 17th century, pleats became a mainstay of the aristocratic look, especially in menswear, where starchy cartridge-pleated collars signified class in the same way as white wigs.

By the 19th century, accordion and box pleats, Sauro said, were the domain of children's sailor suits. And it wasn't until the 1920s and Coco Chanel — everything goes back to Chanel — that pleats became part of the modern-day fashionista lexicon.

"The flapper look didn't just take from elements of menswear," Sauro said. "This was the first time we saw women being able to embrace their youthfulness."

And since then, about every 20 years or so, pleats make a comeback. In the '60s, pleats were mod, and in the 1980s, they were part of the working women's uniform — pleated skirt, ruffled blouse, sheer hose.

The coolest thing about the recent pleated renaissance is that it extends into all corners of our closets, from evening wear — H&M featured a shiny one-shouldered dress I was seconds away from buying this spring — to work attire, as in a fuchsia, pleated tank underneath a navy blazer. And then there is this spring's perfect Saturday afternoon look — a tank tucked into a long pleated skirt paired with ballet flats.

Can pleats be any more pleasant?

Contact Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or, or follow on Twitter @ewellingtonphl. Read her blog, "Mirror Image," at