A few weeks ago, Hood by Air — the New York-based label that has taken the fashion world by storm — took its gender-bending streetwear to Paris for the men's spring 2016collections. Designer Shayne Oliver showcased all his signatures: the logo-emblazoned sweatshirts, the pleated hobble skirts, the fetish pants ... as well as another, more recent HBA-runway fixture, hardcore orthodontia.
This wasn’t the first time braces have broke into high fashion lately. Opening Ceremony featured metal-mouthed modelCharlie James in its Fall 2015 presentation — who managed to steal the spotlight from such high-profile guests as Spike Jonze and Chloe Sevigny. HBA had dental hardware initspreviousrunway show in New York, too. And former French Vogue editor — and arbiter of all things chic — Carine Roitfeld put a giddy, braces-baring teenon the cover of her glossy CR Fashion Book in February.
So, are braces — the source of so much adolescent awkwardness and humiliation — suddenly … cool?
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“I don’t know if it’s something where you’re going to be seeing people running out and getting braces — or fake braces — as a fashion statement,” says Megan McIntyre, beauty director at lifestyle siteRefinery29. “But it is part of this trend away from the flawless, airbrushed beauty of a few years ago to something more approachable by embracing things that were once awkward and uncool.”
Take glasses, which used to prompt taunts like four-eyes, or freckles, which women used to hide by slathering their faces in foundation. Now, Taylor Swiftsports giant Elvis Costello specsand H&M’s more posh sister& Other StoriesandTopshopsell “freckle pencils” so the unblemished can fake their own spots.
And while plenty of brands, like Balmain, go after the burnished glamour ofKimKardashianorKendallJenner— it says something that two of the biggest “it girls” of 2015 have been the late Mexican painter (and resplendently unibrowed)FridaKahloand octogenarian writerJoan Didion, who starred in French label Celine’s Spring 2015 campaign.
“I think it’s less about ridiculous trends than about seeing people in pop culture with more natural traits — gap teeth, untreated hair, a model with a skin condition that she doesn’t hide,” says McIntyre. “Braces serve a medical purpose, but they’re something that so many people have and feel ashamed of.”
“It does show that the industry’s perceptions of beauty are broader than they used to be, even if models do have to still have to conform to specific standards,” says fashion and beauty writer Arabelle Sicardi, citing thepersistent dearth of non-whites on the runway. “But every magazine wants to be — has to be — feminist now, and so you’ll see more body hair, freckles, glasses, big eyebrows. It is a sign of progress.”
Part of the reason, says Sicardi,isnostalgia, which is why designers have been dredging up'90s raver gearand'70s bohorocker styles for the past couple seasons — and why film studioskeep churning out sequels and remakes, too.And, really, what’s more flashback-inducingthan braces?
“It’s kind of funny in a way — we consider braces cute and quaint and they’re kind of kitschy and they remind us of childhood,” says Sicardi. “Though they’re something that we did not enjoy wearing at the time."
But there's also something refreshing about letting models — who are, after all, teenagers — just be themselves."I think it’s aboutmaking braces your own, making it part of your look. I love when agents cast models with braces — it gives this message that they’re okay. It’s a cute risk to take.”
Raquel had braces for four years and got black bands to express her adolescent angst. Follow her on Twitter @RaquelLaneri.