For Spring, fashion's rearview mirror reflected the sheen and glamour of the Jazz Age, but with Burberry's new pre-collection, Christopher Bailey dialed forward a few years to the pre-WWII thirties. Not Hollywood escapism, mind you, but true Brit grit, reflected in strict silhouettes, honest fabrics, and modest, almost demure details. For instance, cashmere intarsias featured the humble sparrow and the pigeon. In the spirit of play, all that was missing was a packet of bread crumbs. Elsewhere, the focus was firmly on serious, tweedy tailoring. Jackets had harder, extended shoulders and nipped waists, sometimes with a bell peplum. Knee-length skirts were lean, often flaring into a fluted hem. Polka-dotted chiffon blouses had pussy bows or puff sleeves and covered buttons.

The dark color palette told its own sober story: sage, bracken, lavender, charcoal, pewter. They meant the ruched evening gowns pointed to austerity rather than opulence. But hang on a minute—there's plenty of new documentation about the heady times had by London's demimonde both immediately before and during the war. Those gowns, with their slit bodices and slashed skirts, also had a wanton quality that suggested wingdings at the city's grand hotels. And, at the end of her wild night out, Bailey's pre-war party girl could grab her enameled Deco minaudière, throw a tweed mink over her bare shoulders, and head out into the fog.