How to wear toile — the historical pattern that's suddenly trending in fashion

Where it came from, why it's back, plus 6 new picks for you to try.

Where it came from, why it's back, plus 6 new picks for you to try

One of the season's most interesting patterns was first introduced in the 18th century, and you might associate it more with wallpaper and museum artefacts than runway fashion: toile, also known as toile de Jouy.

"The original toile de Jouy [was made] in Jouy-en-Josas outside of Paris, and included many florals, some in imitation of printed cottons made in India," explains Dr. Sarah Fee, Eastern Hemisphere Textiles & Fashion Curator at the Royal Ontario Museum. "Historically, until the 18th century, only India was able to print cottons, and until 1800, the Jouy works used cotton cloth imported from India because it was superior to anything Europe could make."

Dr. Fee notes that the term doesn't refer to a single pattern — toile prints featured a wide variety of themes and topics. "Reflecting the wider decorative arts fashion of the time, vignette themes included the Neoclassical, Chinoiserie (imagined oriental exotica), romanticized peasant scenes, classical myths, daily scenes such as carriage rides or lovers' quarrels, as well as topical events." The prints were at first stamped on, using hand-carved wooden blocks, then mechanized engraved-copper plates.

Toile patterns often featured a single colour, a reflection of technical limitations at the time. "Typically toile were printed in a single colour, or shades therein, because until the 19th century, it was very difficult to print more than one colour at a time, and textile manufacturers were yet wholly reliant on natural, plant-based dyes," explains Dr. Fee.

This season, contemporary takes on toile appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 collections for both designer labels such as Acne Studios, Oscar de la Renta and Tibi, and more accessibly-priced brands including Nike, Ever New and Reformation.

While some labels simply used traditional toile patterns in modern silhouettes, others updated the the scale and motifs of their prints in intriguing ways. For example, Tanya Taylor's toile print is multicoloured, and Acne Studios' large-scale patterns showcases historic buildings in assemblage.

Here are 6 stylish ways to add toile to your summer wardrobe.

This mini-length dress is adorable enough on its own, but you could also style it with an oversized, tailored blazer for a look that's cute and unexpected.

Marseilles Dress, about $263, Reformation

The combination of toile and sportswear feels refreshing; this patterned Nike pullover works for both the gym and running errands.

Nike Court Dri-FIT Cropped Crewneck Pullover, $112, Nordstrom

This print by Canadian designer Tanya Taylor is inspired by the landscape and surf of Southern Portugal. Wear the flirty mini-skirt with a fitted tee and sneakers for day, or styled with a romantic, button-up silk blouse for evening.

Lizette Skirt, about $392, Tanya Taylor

There are several stylish toile pieces available from Tory Burch this season. This fun, cotton dress is perfect for almost any summertime outing, and features a fun menagerie of exotic-animal motifs. 

Printed Cotton Shirt Dress, $498 (on sale for about $318), Tory Burch

This sleek bodysuit from Urban Outfitters' fun spring collaboration with British label Laura Ashley looks as good with blue jeans as it would under a flowy, maxi-length skirt. 

Laura Ashley UO Exclusive Bridget Toile Bodysuit, $54 (on sale for $39.99), Urban Outfitters

If you're tired of all the traditional florals in your wardrobe, add something a bit different to the mix with this monochromatic, linen-blend skirt in a toile pattern featuring tropical flora.

Tina Linen Blend Flippy Skirt, $79.99, Ever New

Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.


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