By RAY A. SMITH
It sounds like a very bad idea: Design clothes with an extra flap of fabric around the part of a woman’s body about which she is most sensitive.
The hip-accentuating peplum is back.
It’s springing from dresses, jackets and pants in stores thanks to high-end designers including Giorgio Armani, Celine and Jason Wu and mainstream retailers like J. Crew and H&M.
Actually, the peplum doesn’t have to be a booty bummer, say designers and retailers. With the right fit, it can be flattering for most women.
Peplum styles were last prominent in the 1980s, accompanied by big shoulders, by designers including Yves Saint Laurent and Thierry Mugler. Television audiences were treated to the peplum craze on prime-time soap operas like “Dallas” and “Falcon Crest.”
Peplum-style dresses first grew popular in the mid-19th century, with jacket bodices that flared at the hips over hoop skirts. They entered high fashion in the late 1940s, in the midst of Dior’s “New Look”—a silhouette with nipped-waist jackets and peplums at the hip to accentuate an hourglass shape, says Daniel James Cole, an adjunct assistant professor of fashion history at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
The current peplum revival can be traced to Jil Sander’s influential Spring 2011 women’s collection. Like the word itself, peplum traces its roots to Greece. Peplos referred to a tunic or long garment with a flap of fabric folded and belted around the waist worn in ancient Greece, says Mr. Cole.
H&M is increasing the number of peplum tops for spring “since it is so on trend,” says a spokeswoman. Kate Middleton has been spotted wearing peplum dresses. The cover of Bergdorf Goodman’s spring collections magazine features a Givenchy dress with peplum detail. There’s more to come: A number of designers recently showed peplum styles, including on coats, for their fall 2012 collections.
The peplum “looks like it has lasting power continuing into fall,” says Saks Fifth Avenue’s senior fashion director Colleen Sherin.
The style is an extension of ladylike looks reminiscent of ’50s and ’60s styles that swept through fall 2011 and spring 2012 collections.
For many women, peplum poses a problem. How will it look on hips that aren’t runway-model slim? This fear may prevent peplum from catching on with a large number of women for a while, says Catherine Moellering, executive vice president of trend-forecasting firm Tobe. “We’ve been told this is exactly the shape you want to avoid,” she says.
On the red carpet at the Oscars last month, Tina Fey, in a Carolina Herrera gown with a peplum detail, confessed to Tim Gunn, “at first I feared the peplum.” She quickly added, “but now I love the peplum.”
Some say peplum can ultimately be flattering. “Peplum helps define that hourglass shape, which overrides the idea you may look too hippy,” says Stephanie Solomon, women’s fashion director at Bloomingdale’s.
“A peplum is a play on proportion to make the waist look smaller,” says Vera Wang, who showed looks with peplum detail in her Spring 2012 runway show. “It’s flattering, because you see the waist and how small that is when the peplum goes out,” says Thakoon Panichgul, of the label Thakoon. Tom Mora, head of J. Crew women’s design, says peplum tops complement “all the slim tailored pants that are in style right now,” which won’t make women look bottom heavy.
The look is usually a poor choice for women with a short waist, says celebrity stylist Robert Verdi. “A peplum exaggerates how short your waist is. You don’t have a lot of length between the bottom of your bust line and your hip,” says Mr. Verdi. For curvy women: “Avoid anything that’s ruffly or ruched or short or extremely long,” he says. “You don’t want it to stick out too far from the body and you don’t want to add extra fabric.” Otherwise you’d make those fears of peplum being unflattering come true.