I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately and in addition to coming up with alluring alliterations (I’m not even trying anymore!), I have been pondering how this pandemic is affecting our daily lives. Of course, these questions come second to considerations about access to resources for survival. However, it is definitely important to reflect on the way that life as we know it has changed, perhaps permanently.
Fashion is a part of everyone’s life in some form. It is a dynamic, multi-faceted, global industry that has been known to retain its relevance in the face of wars, natural disasters, and previous health-related pandemics.
“Style is a lot like love,” wrote Faran Krentcil for Harper’s Bazaar. “Even when you try, you just can’t stop it. That’s because just like Beyoncé, fashion is a triple threat: it’s a billion-dollar industry, a vital and easily accessible art form, and—because everyone gets dressed in the morning—its goods are both necessary and universal. We all have to have them.”
Despite its resilience and perpetuity, fashion, on both an industrial and personal level, has been deeply affected by the current state of affairs. For instance, the glossy cover of Vogue Italia, once inhabited by unreasonably gorgeous models adorning even more unreasonably gorgeous clothes, was printed blank for the first time in history to illustrate humanity’s priorities during these trying times. For luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci, bags and shoes have taken a backseat to sanitizers and masks. However, even in our homebound, Dalgona-obsessed existences, fashion is still relevant in our lives. So, when I’m not baking and then Instagramming what I’m baking, here are a few aspects of fashion that I have been contemplating:
As the coronavirus turns social norms on their head, we are able to reexamine the role that those norms play in our lives. All over the world, people have abandoned their office wear and cocktail dresses and embraced the sartorial dégagé, the idea of being free and relaxed with one’s outfit choices. Much to Anna Wintour’s horror, life in lock-down has deemed sweatpants couture. Vogue has even recommended some celebrity inspiration for “styling sweatpants with intention.”
However, for some, staying stylish is a form of self-care in these uncertain times. While Senegalese fashion designer Adama Ndiaye has found herself in lockdown in Dakar, she adorns herself in colorful, flowing dresses.
“I know that most people are finding this situation hard, but I don’t think we can let it get us down,” she says. “We need to keep dreaming, keep inspiring, to stay stylish and stay feminine.”
She’s not alone. Moschino’s Jeremey Scott advised the repurposing of old sweatpants into a creative masterpiece.
“Your body may be in quarantine, but your mind doesn’t have to be,” he believes. To those questioning the relevance of fashion in these times, he responds, “We have a very visceral reaction to clothes, and for that reason alone, fashion still matters.”
As for myself, on most days, I embrace the comforts of my shabby-chic aesthetic. I believe it is important to acknowledge that we are in extraordinary circumstances and looking our best is not a priority for everyone. However, in this sort of stressful, anxiety-invoking situation, far be it for us to judge what people need/want to wear to keep up their spirits and productivity. That being said, I have definitely been reflecting on the way in which fashion has become more performative over the past few years. For someone who found inexplicable joy in conceptualizing, analyzing, and refining the outfit of the day, I am surprised that the absence of a social presence has seriously diminished my will to get cute. After weeks at home binging Sex and the City in my pajamas, I couldn’t help but wonder: was my passion for fashion ever rooted in self-care or was it simply a manifestation of social indoctrination?
Despite the irrelevance of our formal wardrobe, fashion is far from obsolete in this crisis. In fact, the addition of non-medical masks and gloves to our daily ensembles has created incredible stylistic opportunities. Fashion houses are now incorporating trendy face masks into their product portfolios. Shein, Revolve, and Alice+Olivia are just some of the brands that have produced unique, creative cotton masks. From brand logos to cultural motifs to 4/20 themed designs, some of the masks available online exude innovation. It’s also refreshing to see brands and consumers focused on fabric quality and breathability. Cloth masks are also reusable, representing a step towards economic and environmental sustainability.
On the other hand, some argue that companies producing expensive masks is a sign of corporate greed. I agree that there is a basis to the argument that fashion houses are profiting from the epidemic by positioning health necessities as aspirational accessories. In my opinion, social duty demands that large scale clothing brands should first use their facilities to produce the standardized masks to be worn by emergency personnel and at-risk citizens before commencing commercial endeavors. However, in this particular situation, I think it is better that people covet fashionable cloth masks over the special N-95 masks that are in shortage and should be reserved for healthcare professionals. Furthermore, masks are going to be a staple part of our attire in the foreseeable future, and other than the super realistic mcSteamy and mcDreamy cast of Grey’s Anatomy, not many manage to look unbelievably stunning in medical masks.
I believe that ‘accessorizing’ with non-medical masks is not only functional, but also makes a bold statement. These masks tell the world that we are conscious and responsible for our health and the health of those around us. But they also signal that even in the eye of danger, we will not give up on our art and creativity. Now if only this art and creativity found a way to not wreck my $34 lipstick!
In an interview with Naomi Campbell, Anna Wintour claimed that the fashion industry will never be the same again because people’s “values will have shifted.” Wintour believes that the lockdown will force people to reevaluate the excess consumption and waste that is attributed to our fashion choices. With major halts in retail, the fast-fashion industry is facing a slowdown. According to Refinery29, “Inditex, the parent company of Zara, flagged a 24.1 percent decrease in sales in the first two weeks of March; H&M says it saw a 46 percent drop the same month.” With nowhere to go and very few outlets to shop, people have time to reflect on our extremely harmful “see now, buy now” bandwagon culture. With the increased financial insecurity brought on by this epidemic, will the impulsivity of fast fashion still influence retail decision-making?
While this seems like a large scale, not-our-problem sort of issue, it definitely bears consequences in our lives. My spring break plan, for instance, was to drag my mom to Bond Street so she could sponsor the reinvention of my wardrobe (an endeavor to pledge our undying support to the London Retail Sector, of course). But instead of visiting and revisiting stores to convince my mom that a new Zara dress is actually an investment in my future career, I am unsure of when I will be able to leave the house. Until access to medical equipment, groceries, and home essentials is stabilized, getting my hands on a turquoise tote bag is but a distant dream. #noshameinrepeating is no longer a fashion-forward flex, but our only option. I hope this experience teaches us to redesign our stylistic choices by creatively repurposing and rewearing articles of clothing we already have. Our choices can refocus fashion from being an over-commercial, wasteful industry to being rooted in responsible craft and innovation. Perhaps if our purchasing patterns change, our production patterns will too.
By now I would hope it has become evident that fashion cannot be ignored in this crisis. In a rather Miranda Priestly-esque manner, I’d like to remind you that it is “comical [to] think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry.” So, whether you embrace the “frivolousness” of fashion like me or take yourself too seriously to care, I appeal to you to reflect on how your sartorial choices can make a difference on both a personal and biosocial level. It is time to use art to come together (just not too close)!
Diya Kuwelker can be firstname.lastname@example.org.