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Have Designers Solved the Wearing Versus Styling Debate?

 A model walks the runway at milan fashion week wearing a folded cable knit sweater to illustrate a story about wearing versus styling.
A model walks the runway at milan fashion week wearing a folded cable knit sweater to illustrate a story about wearing versus styling.

The great minds of fashion have tried to solve a closet conundrum for months: What's the formula that differentiates wearing clothes from styling them?

On TikTok, thousands of videos tagged #wearingvsstyling attempt to answer the question with fifteen-second, jump-cut hacks. French tuck a top or sweater. Add a belt or the "wrong shoe," then slide on sunglasses. If you're feeling adventurous, tie a sweater over a coat. This, the sound accompanying the videos goes, is "you, but better."

If creative directors and legacy house designers entered the chat, their answers would sound slightly different. Instead of tweaking a standard shirt or sweater in its final form, create pointedly layered, folded, and pinned clothes from the start. Call it trompe-l'œil effort: pieces that do the hard work for you, arriving with a carefully styled perspective already built in.

A model at Fendi wears a sweater half tied over her black dress in a guide to self styled clothes
A model at Fendi wears a sweater half tied over her black dress in a guide to self styled clothes

It's an evolution of a microtrend slowly simmering in fashion for a few seasons. From Fendi to Bottega Veneta to Dries Van Noten, designers punctuated their fall 2024 collections with gestural, pre-styled pieces, like sweaters with extra sleeves and attachments that artfully drape to knits constructed with lived-in folds and darts. Tory Burch was an early adopter, designing sweaters for her fall 2023 collection with perfectly pushed-up sleeves, the look achieved with hidden elastics scrunching the fabric in the cuffs. A season later, Fendi has released several knits and minis with extra asymmetric sleeves—designed to mimic a put-together coordinating cardigan look tied over a dress or a top.

Models at Tory Burch, Fendi, and Dries Van Noten wearing twisted and prestyled garments
Models at Tory Burch, Fendi, and Dries Van Noten wearing twisted and prestyled garments

To an untrained eye, these pieces look like they were lovingly layered and adjusted by the person wearing them—not the design team behind the scenes. Ready-to-shop, spring 2024's pre-styled pieces range from ballet flats pre-lined with varsity striped socks at Tibi to sweatshirts constructed to look like they're halfway pulled on at Dries Van Noten.

A model at Bottega Veneta wears a curled sweater
A model at Bottega Veneta wears a curled sweater

The range of designer interpretations has only grown with the unveiling of the fall 2024 collections. In London, J.W. Anderson showed low-key crewnecks with draping knits looped at the waist. In Milan, Gucci, riffing on a layered sweater Dua Lipa had worn, designed two knit sets with a fitted button-up cardigan sewn into a slouchy, coordinating sweater draped atop. Prada's hat-centric collection also included sliced-neck turtlenecks, creating the illusion of a perfectly layered polo collar. And in a more avant-garde approach to layering in Paris, Rick Owens swaddled models in sweaters with bulbous, criss-crossing, sleeve-like tubes knotted across the front.

Models at JW Anderson, Gucci, and Prada wearing prestyled garments to illustrate the concept of wearing vs styling
Models at JW Anderson, Gucci, and Prada wearing prestyled garments to illustrate the concept of wearing vs styling

All these pre-styled pieces arrive at a moment when the pursuit of personal style has become fashion's form of soul searching—but finding it is more challenging than ever. Social media algorithms push fickle style agendas, from the "girlhood aesthetic" to "mob wife style" to color trends that become outdated in the blink of an eye.

Clothing already twisted, tucked, and folded has a sense of delight and originality. It can also do the heavy lifting and layering for people uninterested in spending their days studying styling hacks on their phones. But even a newfangled piece might not satisfy the wearing vs. style debate on its own; conquering personal style is all a matter of perspective.

A model wears a gucci sweater layered with a second sweater to illustrate self styling garments
A model wears a gucci sweater layered with a second sweater to illustrate self styling garments