Towelling is back

The Guardian


Towelling clothes were the infant 70s version of a shellsuit: practical, comforting, ever-so-slightly shaming. The cool factor didn’t last past age seven. None the less, a nostalgic dresser, I maintained my fondness for towelling and continued in secret to source a select few items for my adult wardrobe, despite the sneers and howls of my peers. Last year, though, I noticed it was getting easier to get my fix. I never could afford the Pucci towelling originals from the 1960s which change hands on Ebay for 1,000-plus pounds. Instead, I found a navy hooded beach cover-up in a sort of thick shagpile from Toast, the deluxe mail order company. I started wearing a pair of Gap low-slung, three-quarter-length white towelling trousers when I was pregnant last summer.

Then I found out about Orla Kiely, a favourite of Sarah Jessica Parker and Kristin Davis. Here was a woman who understood the power of towel. It turned out I wasn’t alone: Kiely’s cutesy mini dresses and cover-ups sell out every year. I managed to get hold of one: with a drawstring under the bust, falling to just above the knee and covered in red, brown, pink and orange flowers, it was a kitsch miracle. I wore it as a maternity dress on a family weekend and paddled elegantly in the shallows of the Gower peninsula. My brother-in-law made my sister promise, on pain of leaving her, that she would never ever wear anything similar when pregnant or indeed at any other time.

This summer, I am vindicated. Terry has gone stratospheric and there is no escaping it. In ‘Vogue’, model Gail Elliott speaks longingly of lilac towelling flip-flops from Mella in New York. Moschino Cheap & Chic have a matching sundress and bag in purple and white. Pucci beach totes have become collectors’ items. Missoni does a sweet Hawaiian-print miniskirt and D Squared has produced a “golfing trash” sun visor and mini-wrap in bubblegum pink towelling. Very Catherine Zeta-Jones. There is a whole terry accessory subculture thing going on. Somehow Bottega Veneta has crafted a pair of white towelling Sandra-Dee mules with three-inch heels. And Jimmy Choo has celebrated the wonder that is terry with its wedge thongs. These were first given to Oscar nominees last year as a novelty gift — in white towelling, they were made to wear after pedicures, a sort of Hollywood foot version of the fluffy bathrobe. But Kate Hudson loved them so much she demanded two more pairs, in pink and blue. Now they are a regular line.

An affordable must-have bag, as sported by Carrie in the final episodes of ‘Sex and the City’, is the “message” make-up purse from St Tropez Essentials. In shades of orange, pink and green, you can pick your slogan: “I Love Botox” or “I Love Pedicures”, as you prefer. Empty it out and it doubles as a face cloth in emergencies. Towelling has been in hiding since the Flashdance sweatbands of the early 1980s. In fact, it hasn’t been this cool since a brief moment in the 60s when Pucci launched its poolside kaftans and zip-up kaftans. In the 70s, I am sure Margo Leadbetter had a smart, flared, navy towelling jumpsuit in BBC TV’s ‘The Good Life’ but this may just be wishful thinking. In any case, it was around this time that the American name “terry” or “terrycloth” became the chic way to describe towelling. Taken from the French tire, it referred to the way the threads of the cotton fabric were “pulled” into loops and left uncut. But even though Pucci’s beach towels remained hot, as the high street adopted towelling for childrenswear and the dreaded leisurewear of the late 1970s those natty terry minidresses suddenly felt very M&S dressing gown.

This year’s revival is due at least in part to the rise of Juicy Couture. The Los Angeles cult label founded by best friends Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor in 1994 championed hooded sweaters and track pants in velour, with everyone from Halle Berry to Madonna swearing by their glossy dress-down look. It was J-Lo — the high priestess of towelling — who popularised terry versions. Juicy’s pink towelling track pants and white shorts have both stretched across her considerable assets and she has been known to step out in a white floor-length hooded kaftan split to the crotch, cleavage spilling out of the ring-pull zipper. This season, Juicy has more terry than ever, with 290 different items, including vanity bags, tube dresses, ruffled dresses, smocked shorts, capri pants, wrap skirts, beach tunics and even jeans-style jackets made in towelling. There is also plenty of terry on the high street. You’re never too old, or too young, for terry.