This week’s most anticipated fashion moment was not Brooklyn Beckham’s wedding finally appearing in Vogue, nor the latest red carpet “lewk” at the Cannes film festival. No, fashion observers were waiting for something that would be much more nuanced, more sophisticated – what on earth Kate Moss would wear to testify at her ex-boyfriend Johnny Depp’s libel trial this week?
For her three minutes on the witness stand via video link to clear up that “did she fall / was she pushed?” stairs question (she fell), Moss weaponised a white spotted pussybow blouse.
To the untrained eye, such a choice might seem like perfectly anodyne courtroom clothing. Not to Mossy and the fashion literate, though. There’s always been something subtly subversive about the pussybow.
“Historically, it’s associated with women who are starting to invade male spaces – the golf course, the workplace – and challenge traditional dress codes,” says Dr Kate Strasdin of Falmouth University.
It was popularised in the 1960s by Coco Chanel, whose silk blouses offset more mannish fabrics such as tweed. But it was in 1966, when Yves Saint Laurent appropriated the tuxedo trouser suit as womenswear to create Le Smoking, softening it with a silk pussybow blouse, that it was radicalised and became a feminist fashion statement.
“It was the first time it was paired with trousers,” says Strasdin. “There was a direct femininity but it was hypermasculinised.”
The 1960s pussybow gave women working in a man’s world a soft-power version of a suit and tie (your reference: those Mad Men badasses Peggy Olson and Joan Holloway). It was an iron fist in a velvet glove.
It was also a key element in the sartorial arsenal of Margaret Thatcher, who reportedly called it “softening and pretty”.
And as if to remind the world of its rebellious roots, Balenciaga opened its Resort 2023 show at the New York Stock Exchange last Sunday with a model wearing a voluminous black satin pussybow blouse with a latex gimp mask.
Kate’s take was rather more polite. Wearing it with a black satin-lapelled jacket, the look was very much Le Smoking: “She’s almost recreated that iconic 1966 [Helmut Newton] image, ”says Strasdin.
So what might Kate have been saying? What was she subverting?
“It evokes defiance,” says fashion historian Dr Bethan Bide. “The bow is almost coming undone. It says she’s trying less hard, it feels more rebellious. It’s like she’s saying, ‘I’m not going to perform for you here.’ It’s a refusal to deliver for the media circus.
“Kate’s brilliant at skirting that line. At first glance, her look is eminently respectable, but it has that real vibe that provides that pushback. ”