Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Dresses from the past

A new wave of fashion is promising women looks from the 1960s, writes Amira Al-Noshokaty

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Yes, this is it,” said the woman who was trying on one of the dresses to her husband. “It’s Soad Hosni style. Remember how I used to dress like this all the time back then,” she asked, at which he smiled.

At Lebet Al-Set (Women’s Game), a clothing boutique in Cairo, women can dress like classic movie divas — Soad Hosni in her famous polka dot dress, Faten Hamama in her elegant shirt-length dress, or even Mervat Amin in her mini-dress from the film Al-Hafid (The Grandson). And the best part of it is that the dresses come in real-life sizes that fit non-diva bodies.

In a country where sexual harassment can be a threat to any woman regardless of her age or style of dress, the term “to dress up” has been put to one side by many Egyptian women. Dresses with floral patterns and joyous colours have become just another expression of nostalgia as a result, next to architectural gems, empty streets, and the laughter of young girls in floral dresses window-shopping on sunny afternoons.

Lebet Al-Set hopes to give a fresh take on fashion, and it opened one year ago. The brainchild of owners Noura Younis and Fatma Abed, the idea of bringing fashion flair back to Egyptian streets has long haunted them.

“The idea was to design dresses inspired by the sixties and seventies or even the fifties, which was the time many women used to wear dresses like those we see today in old movies. We looked through the names of these films because we knew people would relate to them, and we liked Al-Set, woman in Egyptian Arabic, as the name of the store,” said Noura Younis.

They picked the era they did because for them it was a time when women were able to wear what they liked and walk the streets without being harassed. “Nowadays, wearing a dress in Egypt can be dangerous since women wearing dresses may be required to plan their routes carefully and think about the streets and neighbourhoods they might walk through when wearing a dress,” added Younis.

The dresses on display in the shop are inspired by sixties and seventies patterns that range from floral summer dresses to African designs. They come in real-life sizes that match Egyptian women’s sizes. There are straight dresses, shirt dresses, polka dot dresses and floral summer dresses. Lebet Al-Set also has mother and daughter dresses where the same designs can be found in adult and children’s sizes. The store also has some trousers and cardigans on display.  

“Most of our designs are 90 per cent cotton or linen that suit the Egyptian climate and are quite practical,” explains designer and co-founder Fatma Abed.

The designs may reflect the golden age of the movies, but the length of the dresses reflects today’s street codes where dresses do not stop before the knee. “We want women to wear our dresses without then wearing layers to cover them up. We want to make dresses that can be worn in the streets and when commuting to work,” Younis added.

Every season the fashion industry focuses on certain styles that are derived from certain standard designs, with the result that over the years some designs have been forgotten, become vintage, or have never made it out of the middle decades of the last century, Abed explained.

Aside from fashion, Lebet Al-Set also has a keen sense of social responsibility, and the clever hands that transform the designs into finished products are those of women from the Fathet Kheir and Helm Establ Antar, NGOs that give women from underprivileged backgrounds vocational training that they can use to earn a living.

“We are now seeing women who have worn dresses for the first time in their lives, and this has been very rewarding,” the two founders remember.

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