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Carolina Herrera/MEDILL

Akira Manager Bridget Flanagan discusses her thoughts on the backwards fashion trend.

Is that sweater backwards or was it made that way?

by Carolina Herrera
Feb 21, 2013


Carolina Herrera/MEDILL

Shopper Megan Hickey turns her sweater around for a more work-appropriate look.


Carolina Herrera/MEDILL

Front zipper dress: Francesca's Collections featured the backwards trend in a popular green dress.


Carolina Herrera/MEDILL

Button-back sweater: Boden USA had several of these sweaters throughout its catalog.

How do you get a shopper to continue purchasing a staple item such as the cardigan? Maybe change the length or switch out the buttons. How about showing a model wearing the cardigan backwards?

Some retailers have decided that reversing apparel items is one way to appeal to modern consumers. Necklines, detailing and hardware have been flipped, offering an unconventional look to style-conscious women.

“We have to update what is already in their closets so they don’t have five versions of the same thing,” said Lauren Victor, the manager at Kaveri, a Lincoln Park boutique.

At first glance, sweaters with buttons down the back, dresses with zippers down the front and tops with plunging backs may seem as if they are being worn backwards. But the look is intentional.

The idea isn’t really new. As far back as the 1950s, innovative fashion devotees were been deliberately turning around their clothing to achieve the same look.

Adolescent girls would take their mother’s cardigans and intentionally wear them backwards as an unconventional statement. Decades later designer Marc Jacobs featured a crewneck cardigan worn backwards on a runway model. It didn’t take long for the style to catch on, and celebrities such as Kate Moss began sporting the look in 2010.

Some celebrities have even worn their couture dresses backwards on the red carpet. The response has been mixed. Critics raved about Angelina Jolie’s reversed Max Azria gown in 2009, but Sigourney Weaver’s turned-around Lanvin dress last month landed her on the ‘worst dressed’ list with many critics.

Lincoln Park Akira manager Bridget Flanagan encourages reversing clothes when she works with customers to find a good look. “Sometimes I do tell my customers ‘You know you should turn that around, it would look great backwards,’ “ she said.

And her customers aren’t the only ones using the strategy with their everyday wardrobes. Aspiring journalist Megan Hickey readily admits she wears a lot of her clothes backwards even though she can now purchase outfits made that way.

“It’s a way for me to wear an outfit more than once and repurpose a shirt or a dress,” she said. “If I want a shirt with a V [neckline] to be conservative for work, I can just turn it around. But then if I want to go out, I feel comfortable wearing it the other way.”

Although flipping around clothes works for some, it’s not a becoming style for all body types, fashion experts say. For instance, wearing an tailored item backwards can create an unflattering fit on well-endowed females.

Some are already predicting the backwards look will be short-lived in the fast-paced world of fashion. “Everything is evolving into a new generation,” said Azhar Harris, editor-in-chief of Fashion Chicago Magazine. “It is a fashion phenomenon. These types of trends generally don’t last.”

In fact, reverse high heels and reversed French manicures didn’t last long. But three flip-flopped items are continuing to gain popularity among consumers and storeowners in 2013.

Back closures and detailing

Retailers such as the Limited and Forever 21 Inc. have been selling sweaters with buttons up the back for the past year. Called the button-back sweater, the apparel item uses back closures to add detail to a standard top.

“People asked themselves ‘How do we update the cardigan and make it fresh?’ ” said Victor.

The button-back sweater is designed to fit women’s bodies in a way that traditional cardigans worn backwards cannot. It also complements other current fashion trends such as statement necklaces and Peter Pan collars. “The buttons placed in the back and the accessories in the front don’t make it all look busy,” said Georgia Loukopoulos, manager at Francesca’s Collections. “You can add more to a look and make it special.”

Exposed front zippers

But button closures are not the only detail that switched sides on apparel items – zippers have, too.

In the past zippers were a concealed part of clothes, carefully crafted to hide any indication of a seam. In 2009, exposed zippers gained popularity although some critics found the look sloppy.

Recently some designers have revamped the look again to feature exposed zippers running from top to bottom in the front of skirts and dresses. The front zipper might draw questioning glances about whether the outfit is in fact on properly but getting noticed may be the point.

“People are getting more comfortable with having an exposed zipper,” said Victor. “Designers have realized client comfort level is moving in that direction so why not try it in the front?”

High necks, low backs

Necklines that were once low and racy have been scaled back for a more conservative look. But the plunge has reappeared in the backs of dresses and shirts.

“It used to be deep cut, show your cleavage […] now it’s more conservative front, sexy back,” said Flanagan.

Even the staple V-neck tee has been redone. The V-back tee can be found at popular stores such as Urban Outfitters, American Apparel and Victoria’s Secret. Some retailers even advertise the item as reversible, encouraging shoppers to wear the V shape in the front or back depending on their mood.

This versatility is part of what is making the backwards look attractive to consumers.

So as the year continues, so likely will the question: Do you have that on backwards?