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Pioneer Spirits

The skirt that conquered the West is blazing new trails

The ground-grazing, free-flowing look Melissa Gilbert sported as she ran through the fields in Little House on the Prairie is sweeping L.A. sidewalks and New York runways. Just don’t expect today’s version of the maxi prairie skirt—a fashion statement introduced by Ralph Lauren in the late 1970s—to come in demure sprigged muslin. Designers are showcasing new interpretations of the garment in fabrics that include voluminous silk poplin (Michael Kors), printed chiffon (Alberta Ferretti), and hand-crocheted lace (Lauren again).

“It reminds me of Joni Mitchell in the canyon,” says actress Shiva Rose of Vena Cava’s aqua silk crepe rendition—a throwback to disco skirts, another inspiration of the trend—that she bought to feature on her blog, The Local Rose. Tim Kaeding, cofounder of Mother, made a microthin, fluid A-line for his debut jeans collection. It was such a hit for spring that he’s carrying it for fall. “Coming into the industry as someone new, when you get an order in the hundreds, you slap your knee,” says Kaeding. “But this was in the thousands.” He sees the evolution of looser silhouettes as a reaction to years of skinny jeans, when movement has been anything but free.

Those who saved their long skirts from three decades ago are in luck, says Sarah Bergman, manager of the L.A. vintage store the Way We Wore, where the separates—in crochet or cotton florals—are flying off the racks. She calls the trend “innocent Gunne Sax meets The Virgin Suicides.” Rochelle Gores anticipated the demand at her West Hollywood boutique, Arcade. “I bought heavily into long, feminine skirts for summer because it’s such a California look,” she says.

Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power of WhoWhatWear.com are similarly smitten with the latest incarnations of the style. “They’re all over the market,” says Kerr, “so downtown minimalists, earthy bohemians, and high-fashion tastemakers can all find the perfect piece.”