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Don't Let Peplum Ruffle Your Fashion Choice

Gina Barreca

Not That I'm Bitter

9:10 AM EST, January 11, 2013

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Quick: when you see the phrase "Don peplums," do you think the second word should be capitalized because you assume it's a proper noun, as in Don Corleone?

Do you, for example, think "peplum" is another word for baby food? Or do you read it as "pe-plum" and think it's a genetically engineered snack derived from peas and plums, something the English might serve on toast?

Perhaps you think it's eco-friendly gravel hybrid containing pebbles since "p" and the "b" sound similar to you, even in print?

Are you, in other words, like most people and have no idea what those two words mean when buttoned together?

Or — and this is the real test — are you one of those hip and stylish fashion mavens who already know "Don peplums" is not only a full sentence but an imperative one at that?

It turns out that "Don peplums" is something women have been saying to other women for several months now.

Had I overheard a conversation between adults where one whispers to the other "Don peplums," I would have leapt to all sorts of false conclusions involving secret codes, foreign assignations, gender reassignment and, quite possibly, the Spanish Inquisition.

Yet I learned recently, through a quick glance at 1,743 magazines I didn't get to read last year after buying subscriptions from a friend's child who needed to go on a day trip with her school to, apparently, Neptune since I ordered so many publications that I could have simply paid for her to spend a week touring the French countryside by private pony cart and still had money to pay for the rest of her class to follow her on foot (not that I'm bitter), connoisseurs of couture have been referring to peplums repeatedly during the last several seasons.

For those of you haven't had a chance to get to the pile of magazines next to your bed since 1997, "Don peplums" can be translated as follows: "Women: Try wearing an extra overskirt flounce sewn onto, and dropping from the waistline, meant to sharpen the already existing shape of your body by using a frill or flounce that comes down the midsection and sits just above your hips. Seriously! Just try it. We'll watch."

You'll have figured out by now that "Don," in this two-word sentence, is the verb. The only other time "don" is commonly appears in that usage is when we sing "Don we now our gay apparel." Coincidence? You decide.

You know who looked good in peplum dresses? Lauren Bacall, Lana Turner and Gene Tierney. Tall, lanky, bedroom-eyed broads who commandeered the script, the studio, and had the contracts for the seamstresses sewn up. But, trust me, if you're old enough or sophisticated enough to recognize the names of these stars, then you're too smart a cookie to don a peplum today.

Because unless you're Kate Middleton or Nicole Kidman, a peplum will have the instantaneous effect of making you look like you've stapled lampshade or tutu to your waist, right over your pencil skirt. It's either that, or the peplum will make you look like you've just opened a diminutive Totes umbrella on your lap and are, rather bravely, keeping it there to disguise a spill.

Apart from glamorous actresses, you know who also donned the peplum? The whole chorus line of my 5-foot-2, 300-pound, 75-year-old Sicilian aunts, that's who. Frankly, these fashionistas couldn't get enough of the additional flaps of material layering over the general waist/hip environs; it was as close as they could come to wearing an apron outside the house.

These women did make real fashion efforts for formal occasions. After all, they hoisted above their majestic knees the white elastic holding up their support hose for weddings and funerals. Except for ceremonious functions or one of the big feast days, that elastic remained snugly in place below the knee.

But my aunts, wise women all, would not have dreamed that anything, certainly not an "extra overskirt," would sharpen the existing shape of their bodies. Frills wouldn't triumph where support hose feared to tread. The only thing likely to be sitting above their hips was a grandchild.

2013's Fashion Rule: Don't know what it is? Don't don it.

Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and a feminist scholar who has written eight books. She can be reached through her website at http://www.ginabarreca.com.