One winter afternoon in 2016, Upper West Side mother of two Batsheva Hay emerged from her patternmaker’s studio carrying the first dress she ever designed: a midlength frock made from vintage Laura Ashley chintz, with puff sleeves, a high, ruffled collar and matching ruffles around the wrists.
On her way home, Hay says a stranger stopped her on the street and pointed at the dress. “They asked me if it was for a school play,” Hay recalls, laughing. “I guess it was pretty costume-y.”
The corporate lawyer turned designer wasn’t discouraged. That March, Hay, 37, founded Batsheva, a collection of modest, prairie-chic dresses (priced at $400 for adults, $160 for the kiddie versions).
Two years later, the Laura Ashley- and Gunne Sax-inspired line has become a go-to for New York’s chicest: Refinery29 Editor-in-Chief Christene Barberich, downtown lit-girl Stephanie LaCava and actress-cum-artist Leelee Sobieski have all been photographed in the brand.
Similarly rustic, old-fashioned styles from labels such as Zimmermann (worn by Margot Robbie), Coach (as seen on Selena Gomez) and Dôen are now springing up for a look that’s decidedly less Kardashian sister and more sister-wife.
“Three or four years ago, all we were seeing was celebrities with bare midriffs, competing to wear the most naked dress imaginable, and this feels more like a natural reaction against that,” Eric Wilson, fashion news director at InStyle, tells The Post.
Similarly, Hay wonders if, in the age of the bandage dress, covering up actually feels more daring than stripping down. “You’re not breaking any rules by wearing a miniskirt,” she says. “This style of dress, even though it’s more ‘traditional,’ can actually be more attention-grabbing and adventurous.”
Wilson credits the appeal of these looks to Instagram for their popularity. “They’re very big and dramatic, and play into the desire to create stunning imagery on social media,” he says.
And when it comes to the resemblance to religious attire — from the dresses worn by observant Mormons to Mennonites — Refinery29’s Barberich says good styling makes all the difference.
“It’s about finding ways to make the trend feel modern,” says Barberich, who recently posted a mirror selfie on Instagram showcasing her full-length Batsheva dress with a dainty Peter Pan collar. She accessorized it with a pair of open-toe Rachel Comey cheetah-print slingbacks.
“The choice of shoes is important. You don’t want to wear one of her dresses with a pump, or something that feels ultra-ladylike — that gives it a ‘Big Love’ vibe,” says Barberich, referring to the HBO series centered around a family of polygamist Mormons.
Handbag designer Agnes Baddoo, who guest-modeled on Dôen’s Web site, says she likes wearing Batsheva dresses because they remind her of clothes from her childhood — and strike the perfect balance between modesty and sass.
“[Hay has] succeeded in making the dresses as puritanical as possible without making the wearer feel like a Puritan,” says Baddoo.
“I guess that’s the secret sauce.”
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