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Puff sleeves, florals and plenty of whimsy: The prairie trend is back

Orchid Print Black Midi Dress, £75; Superga & Oliver Bonas Embroidered Flower Trainers, £75, available from Oliver Bonas. PA Photo/Handout.

By Prudence Wade

In the world of fashion, few things are constant – but when spring rolls around, we know we’re in for some form of the prairie trend.

This season is no different, and the warmer weather ushers in new takes on the look, with plenty of puff sleeves, floaty skirts and pastel colours.

Modern takes on the prairie trend might seem somewhat ethereal, but the look is firmly grounded in workmanlike origins. Worn by American pioneer women who made the journey west in the 1700s and 1800s, the original dresses mixed practicality with fashion: long hemlines and high necks to protect modesty, muted tones and hardy materials to suit farm work, and ruffles and puffy sleeves to add a feminine sensibility.

The pioneer story is a mainstay of popular culture – just think of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House On The Prairie, which has been adapted for the screen multiple times.

Further down the line, the prairie style was particularly popular in the Seventies, given a hippie spin with brighter colours and floatier materials. This is when the ‘make do and mend’ spirit of the homesteaders shone through, with patchwork patterns becoming particularly popular.

High fashion helped set the trend, with big designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Dior moving away from the miniskirts of the 1960s in favour of longer hemlines and puffier sleeves.

The boho-heavy fashion of the Noughties also had prairie elements – think high necks, lace trims and plenty of florals.

And now, it would seem like we’re falling back in love with all things prairie – thanks, in part, to the pandemic. For many of us, the lockdowns have been a chance to go back to basics – we started making our own bread, fell in love with gardening, and dreamt of a simpler life in the countryside. The trend for all things ‘cottagecore’ took over – a romanticised interpretation of what rural life, like that of the American pioneers, looks like.

This has all shaped fashion, with styles embracing a dreamy take on prairie styles. Yes, it’s a fashion trend – but many also see it as a way of life. If you want to style the prairie look the 2021 way, here’s how…


Puff sleeves

If it was good enough for the pioneer women, it’s good enough for us. There’s nothing like a puff sleeve to bring a bit of drama to an outfit – and the best thing is, you can tailor the volume to how extra you’re feeling.

Some people might not like how feminine a big sleeve can look; if this sounds like you, balance out the rest of the outfit with darker tones and biker boots.

Puff sleeves are classic on dresses – we also like them on blouses and crop tops, giving the look a Nineties-inspired spin.


fashion3 aniston casual floral print wrap maxi dress
Aniston Casual Floral Print Wrap Maxi Dress, £62, available from Freemans. PA Photo/Handout.

Tiered dresses

Tiered dresses aren’t exactly out of the homesteader playbook: instead, this detail is more inspired by the 1970s take on the trend.

The style is universally flattering – whether you choose a longer dress or a mini – and is an opportunity to get whimsical. We particularly like mixing up the patterns on each tier, giving your outfit a DIY vibe – even if you didn’t actually learn how to sew during lockdown.


Floral patterns

Sure, floral prints aren’t ground-breaking, but who can resist a bit of flower-power in spring?

Ditsy prints are delicate and perfect for the prairie trend. It’s another chance to tailor the look to your personality – either leaning into pale, pastel colours, or choosing a darker colour scheme for an edgier vibe.

To really channel the cottagecore aesthetic, combine florals with other elements of the trend – like puff sleeves, big collars and tiered styles.


fashion2 broderie anglaise top
Broderie Anglaise Top in White, £35, available from Joe Browns PA Photo/Handout.

Prairie touches

Fashion is all about attention to detail, and small touches can really help you embody the prairie trend.

Details like broderie anglaise, gingham patterns and supersized collars will help elevate any look.


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