Tulle Skirts

Tulle (/tuːl/ TOOL) is a lightweight, very fine, stiff netting. It can be made of various fibres, including silk, nylon, polyester and rayon. Polyester is the most common fibre used for tulle. Rayon tulle is very rare. Tulle is most commonly used for veils, gowns (particularly wedding gowns), and ballet tutus. Tulle comes in a wide array of colors and it is readily available. It can be dyed at home if it is made from nylon, rayon or silk but not if it's made from polyester.

The name comes from Tulle, a city in the southern central region of France. Tulle was well known as a center of lace and silk production in the 18th century, and early tulle netting probably originated in this French city. Tulle netting certainly appeared earlier in Parisian ballet costume than in most other nations, suggesting that tulle netting may have been more readily available there than elsewhere.

One of the most common uses for tulle netting is in garments. Tulle is often used as an accent, to create a lacy, floating look. Tulle may also be used in underskirts or petticoats to create a stiff belled shape. Gowns are often puffed out with the use of several layers of stiff tulle. Tulle netting is also used to make veils, since it obscures the features of the face while allowing the wearer to see out.[1]

Decorative ornaments can also be made from tulle netting. It is frequently used to wrap up party favors and gifts, especially for weddings and baby showers. Scraps of tulle netting are sometimes used in quilting and crafts as well, to add texture to a project. Multicolored tulle netting is often used for this purpose, to create tulle flowers and other ornamental accents.

THE SUBVERSIVE POWER OF TULLE

Few things embody Western culture's idealized view of femininity more than a frothy tulle skirt. Often associated with bridal wear and ballerina costumes, the ethereal and transparent qualities of this lightweight, fine netting have come to serve as a symbol of the contradictions associated with womanhood: delicate yet strong, pure but sexy.

The romanticized fabric has become a catwalk staple in recent seasons, showing up on the Spring 2018 runways of Saint Laurent, Moschino, Alexander McQueen, Oscar de la Renta, Simone Rocha, Preen, and Delpozo, just to name a few. And with the couture shows in full swing in Paris this week, it's especially prevalent now. (Of course, that's not even counting the mountains of tulle shown almost every season by Molly Goddard and Giambattista Valli, who could probably keep the tulle industry in business all on their own.) The popularity of tulle clothing could be fashion's cyclical reaction to the longstanding market dominance of athletic wear, but is it a coincidence that one of the most traditionally feminine fabrics seems to be making a resurgence in the wake of the #metoo movement?

THE BASICS OF TULLE

Historians believe that, at first, tulle was painstakingly woven by hand using methods similar to lace production starting around the 1700s. Modern-day tulle (also known as bobbinet) was first produced after a complex weaving machine that could efficiently produce the fabric was patented in 1809. [1] After that, tulle became integral to high-end wedding gowns, evening dresses and lingerie. Once a prohibitively expensive and luxurious textile made of silk, tulle eventually became readily available to the masses thanks to the introduction of cheaper synthetic fibers such as nylon, rayon and polyester.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, tulle gained in popularity for a number of reasons. It became one of the most common materials used for evening gowns, especially after mid-century influencer Grace Kelly wore a voluminous tulle skirt in the 1954 film "Rear Window." The lightness of the fabric could be layered to create massively wide skirts that concealed a woman's legs while accentuating her waist and bust.

Tulle was also used to convey modesty when veiled over hats or a bride's head, as it often still is today. According to bridal historian Susan Waggoner, the tradition of wearing a bridal veil dates back to Ancient times when brides were wrapped to represent the delivery of a "modest and untouched maiden." It was also used as a way to conceal a woman's face during arranged marriages so that the groom wouldn't see his bride until it was, well, too late to run. [4] Of course, we like to imagine that tulle veils hold much more romantic meanings in contemporary marriages, but it's important to recognize that the popularity of tulle in today's fashion represents a woman's ability to choose what to conceal and what to reveal.

TULLE AND TUTUS

The ubiquitous tutu look is said to have been first introduced in 1832 by the Swedish-Italian dancer Marie Taglioni for her leading role in the ballet "La Sylphide." The bell-shaped skirt that she wore would inspire costume designers to layer more and more tulle to heighten the gravity-defying effect of the tutu, which also became much shorter to show off a dancer's fancy footwork. However, while the plain white tutu supposedly served to represent the purity and virtue of female dancers, it's no secret that male spectators were pleased by the increased exposure of the dancers' legs. [2]

Despite its allure, the beauty of a tulle tutu came at a tragic price for many dancers. In the 1800s, indoor lighting only came from candles and the newly honed power of gaslights; as you can imagine, that created a dangerous scenario for all wearers of voluminous tulle skirts. Ballerinas were particularly susceptible since theirs were typically bouncing around flickering stage lights, and numerous dancers fell victim to flames throughout the 1800s. [1]

From music boxes to Christmas decor, young girls are exposed to ballerina imagery throughout the earliest parts of their life. The bell- or disc-shaped tulle tutu becomes a symbol representing beauty and grace, providing an ideal for which to strive when they grow older. As dance scholars have noted, the romanticized vision of a tutu-clad ballerina remains a universal sign of perfected femininity: "couth and graceful, yet disciplined and regulated." [3]

TULLE’S REBELLIOUS SIDE

These cultural connotations have made tulle ripe for use as a subversive tool to make comments on gender roles or to celebrate female strength through the use of juxtapositions. While the tutu has historically symbolized discipline, purity and beauty (for the sake of the male gaze), wearing a tutu-esque skirt alongside, say, combat boots and fishnet tights subverts the garment’s original connotation and makes a statement against the values it traditionally represented. Some theorists have also noted that embracing the tutu look serves as a way for a woman to communicate her power and individuality without sacrificing her desire to embrace her "girlish femininity," an ephemeral quality that women are told to give up in order to become respectable wives and mothers. [2]

Numerous fashion designers have questioned the binary aspects of Western fashion through the use of tulle, just as Yohji Yamamoto did with his red bustle that was immortalized by Nick Knight in 1986. Almost two decades later, Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons raised eyebrows with her so-called "Biker + Ballerina" collection for Spring 2005. This iconic collection juxtaposed the masculine qualities of boxy leather jackets against frilly pink tutus to possibly comment on the "resources a modern woman needs—speed, toughness, and rigorous self-discipline," as Vogue's Sarah Mower wrote in her review of the collection. The ingenious designers behind Viktor & Rolf also made a statement using tulle for their Spring 2010 Ready-to-Wear collection, which is best remembered for its over-the-top tulle gowns that were distorted to look like holey chunks of swiss cheese. "With the credit crunch and everybody cutting back, we decided to cut tulle ball gowns," the designers told the press.

But fashion designers aren't the only ones who have made statements using tulle. No one could forget Madonna's "Like a Virgin" bridal look that mixed a barely-there tulle skirt with elements of lingerie. Tulle has also been a favorite material for hyper-feminized drag queen costumes, using the fabric to emphasize gender tropes and poke fun at the traditional idea of an effeminate woman. Whether worn by a male or female, the sight of a tulle skirt outside of the realms of traditional attire can make a statement that one doesn't conform to the norms of society. This is rather remarkable when you think about it: how many other garments have the power to make such a statement with so little context?
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