In 1988, designer Sandra Garratt launched a gender-neutral, modular line of clothing called Multiples. The pieces were jersey knit, one-size-fits-all, and constructed from a few geometric shapes (mostly tubes and rectangles) without anything fussy like buttons or collars. Waistbands were elastic, tops were oversize, and everything was soft. When I wore them, I felt like I was part of the future—and the future was exceedingly comfortable.
I decided I needed to simplify my life: my clothes should all coordinate. They should be gender-neutral, and soft, and they should have elastic waists. What did we lose when we let Multiples go? I started stalking Multiples online to find out.
The clothes all coordinated and were designed to be multifunction: a wrap belt was a hood, a cowl, and a tube top (those being all wardrobe essentials); leggings could be worn on your legs or arms or tied around your waist; a tube dress could slide up to be a top or down to be a skirt. There was a lot of tying and wrapping and rolling (minimalist diagrams were provided). Everything was reversible.
Granted, I was young, but I thought Multiples was going to change fashion forever. And then it didn't: after a few years of modular mixing and matching, Multiples faded from view.
In a recent wave of nostalgia for the Multiples era, I decided I needed to simplify my life: my clothes should all coordinate. They should be gender-neutral, and soft, and they should have elastic waists. What did we lose when we let Multiples go? I started stalking Multiples online to find out. There wasn't much out there, but I eventually found some new-deadstock pieces on Ebay.
I felt like I was part of the future—and the future was exceedingly comfortable.
I ended up with a crop top and "slim" skirt in coordinating teal and teal stripes, a magenta long "wedge sleeve" dress, and a magenta-striped "tube." (I passed on a long "square sleeve wrap"—a mistake—as well as the "narrow pant.") I loved the way they looked in their clear envelopes with model numbers prominently displayed, as if they just arrived by pneumatic tube from another time. On each minimalist black-and-white label, the item was styled (with coordinating Multiples pieces) three ways: "Trendstyle," "Workstyle," and "Sportstyle." I didn't know what these meant, but I was into it.
When I saw the pieces this time around, being a grown-up, I understood that more than just a brilliant experiment, Multiples is part of a fashion lineage. The drapey-ness of the pieces is not surprising for the time: after the shoulder pads and hard structure of the earlier '80s, a soft drape makes a lot of sense. And Garratt worked at both Halston and Zoran, titans of minimalist draping, before setting out on her own.
And today, the Multiples philosophy lives on in the designs of Fabio Costa (of Project Runway fame), 69, VFiles, and others, while mega-brands like American Apparel and Zara see the wisdom of clothes that go beyond gender constructs. I had all these movements in mind when I went to wear my new purchases, convinced that I'd cracked the fashion code.
But then, the "slim skirt" wasn't so slim: although in theory I liked it with the crop (which is very short—1980s crop tops are no joke), in practice, the gathers created by the elasticized waistband were not slimming anything. Also, one thing I hadn't remembered is that Multiples, like most knits of that time, were made of a fifty-fifty cotton/poly blend: while the fabric felt sturdier than most of today's knits, it wasn't cottony soft.
The order wasn't a total fail, though: the tube ended up being one of my summer staples, and the wedge sleeve dress is actually—dare I say it—a timeless classic. It's both uniform-like and monastic, but also futuristic-looking and edgy. There's a lot of fabric to it (a lot), but somehow it's also clean and minimalist; it's elegant but also kind of sloppy; stylish but not trendy. And most importantly, it allows me to do me—the me that's beyond gender, age, size, or any other superficial notion of identity. Like all of us, I'm not just one of those things: I contain multiples