The Poncho: Mexican Flea Market or High-End Fashion Piece?

The fashion industry is renowned for recycling old styles: the 50s, the 60s, the 80s, the not-so-greaties – yes they all have a way of creeping back into our daily wardrobe in some form or another. Your newest Topman coat may be this season’s must-have, or perhaps you just bought a brand new pair of designer shoes. Either way, chances are the majority of the clothes you are wearing today have been recycled through various trends throughout time. However, there are some clothes that I am sure you will agree have never been fashionable, and we can only hope never will. Yes I am talking about the ‘Crocs’ of the world, the socks and sandals combo, the sunglasses-in-a-club look and even the ‘I love *insert latest holiday here*’ cap that you are wondering why you ever bought – although if you have any sense, probably never did.

Now then, before a few of you scuttle off to shamefully hide your souvenir hats and de-tag yourselves in photos of you in various pretentious sunglass-wearing clubs, I have news for you. The fashion world of late has had a tendency to take things that are notoriously out of fashion, and transform them into something that even the most fashion-savvy amongst us would be proud to wear. Take a look at tie-dye t-shirts, for example, that made a comeback last Spring/Summer, or look around this winter to see how many people are trying to pull off the ‘quirky’ look with a vintage jumper that was once knitted by somebody’s grandma as a beloved Christmas present.

My point is that things come in and out of fashion as often as the tide changes, and whether you claim to be a follower of trends or not, I can guarantee that you used to wear some items that you wouldn’t be seen dead in now. Although, I’m sorry to say guys that I don’t think the sock and sandals combo will ever be a good look, there is a new item that seems to be popping up amongst the catwalks that was once considered the least ‘fashionable’ of them all: the poncho.

The Poncho

Well anything that Ugly Betty has and proudly hangs on her wall is usually not the most typically fashionable item to wear, and is certainly not the first thing you would think about writing a whole fashion article on – but alas, here we are. The poncho has been prominent in a lot of designer’s collections of late; it has already infiltrated the world of womenswear and I give it until next year before we start seeing the item featured in our beloved high-street menswear stores.

“The poncho is essentially a single large sheet of fabric with an opening in the center for the head. Rainproof ponchos normally are fitted with fasteners to close the sides once the poncho is draped over the body, with openings provided for the arms; many have hoods attached to ward off wind and rain.” Wikipedia

Womenswear

Originating from Mexico and the Americas as far back as the 1800’s, the poncho has been around for many years, and has seen a lot of changes along the way. However, the poncho’s use has always been primarily functional rather than aesthetic; this is one aspect of the garment that has never changed – until now. Used throughout several wars, the poncho can be made of wool or cotton to keep its occupant warm, or rather with a water-proof material to keep them dry. American troops were often allocated their own poncho to keep them dry in the war, and several of them were even tailored to form a tent when not being worn. It is fair to say then that the poncho’s history has been one of durability and shelter, but it has always remained distant from the visually-aesthetic needs of the fashion world. However, over the past couple of years womenswear designers have been integrating the poncho into their collection for both aesthetic and functional uses, and this has often been taken into high-end fashion:

Women's Poncho Trend on the A/W10 Runways

Menswear

As usual, menswear is slowly starting to follow suit, as a few select designers have showcased their use of ponchos in their recent S/S11 catwalks. The poncho’s structural capabilities, as well as its diversity of suitable fabrics, is what has attracted the designer to the once tent-like item, and I have a feeling there will be much more to come. Similar to the oversized tee, the general nature of the poncho (in particular the arms) allows the designer to play with and against the natural silhouette and structures of the body – an aspect of design that is usually only prevalent in couture and editorial fashion.

One of the frontiers for the poncho in men’s ready-to-wear fashion is designer Juun J, who featured the poncho prominently in his A/W09 collection and has been playing upon it ever since. Juun ingeniously took the military backgrounds of the poncho and transformed it from something you would perhaps see in a mexican flea market, into a high-end fashion piece with military detailing – not forgetting its historical functionality and durability along the way. However, inspired by the structural silhouette that the poncho gives the wearer, Juun not only adapts their traditional form, but rather adapts current menswear items such as trench coats, shirts and jackets, by manipulating their structural appearance with a poncho-like influence. Take a look for yourself below.

Juun J A/W Poncho's for Men

And he isn’t the only one doing this either; more recently several other designers have been beginning to get on board. One of the most ideally notable examples is probably British menswear favourite Carolyn Massey’s take on the military poncho: shown below.

Carolyn Massey Military Poncho

French designer Alexis Mabille also showed off his use of ponchos in his most recent S/S11 collection. Mabille’s ponchos explore a different range of materials than those previously shown, and seem to be light and elegant, rather than taking on the military influence of Massey and Juun. This ‘elegant’ inspiration has most likely come from the poncho’s closely related brother, the ‘cape’, which was often worn as a garment of extravagance and luxury by men of the Victorian period.

Alexis Mabille Poncho

As you can see from the range of menswear ponchos that I have shown you, the garment is flexible in both shape and structure, allowing the designer to play with several different fabrics and prints for a variety of looks. It is the diversity of the poncho that makes me think it will slowly become more eminent in menswear fashion, and it is certainly a statement piece in our wardrobe. Although I admit that some pieces look a bit too over-the-top, and some bad choices of fabric may lead to a slightly overly-effeminate garment, several of these ponchos do looks great, and the two overcoat-styled ponchos of Juun’s collection would certainly not look too out of place on today’s streets.

  • What do you think?
  • Will the poncho become a member of the ready-to-wear high street line? Should it?
  • Should it remain experimental and high-end only?

I personally welcome it as an aesthetic piece of menswear fashion – I mean if Ugly Betty can pull it off, so can we eh?

For more of my fashion-related rambles, you can follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/TomBloomfield

Cheers,
Tom