Life under quarantine has done treacherous things to our clothing rotations. Putting together an outfit that I couldn’t go to bed in just seems wrong to me right now, and even thinking about putting on a pair of jeans feels physically repulsive.
It’s easier now more than ever to write off getting dressed as a non-essential concern. The whole concept of appearing in public has been put on hold — there are no classes to go to, no Starbucks lines to stand in. We can even choose not to be seen at our online classes, thanks to the “mute camera” button. However, it’s important to pay close attention to our fashion choices today, because they say so much about how our culture is handling the pandemic.
Right now, everyone is dressing for survival. The elusive N95 mask is the most obvious expression of this attitude, but rubber gloves and makeshift face coverings have become the new normal at the grocery store as well. Depending on who you ask, not wearing a mask at all has suddenly become a rebellious statement in itself.
When we’re not braving the aisles of our local Kroger, we’re at home in our sweats and pajamas, dressed to survive the pitfalls of being stuck inside. Our precious sweatpants have become our comfort blankets. They’re soft and stretchy and give us room to move around in, as if they’re reminding us of the freedoms we still have. Meanwhile, our designated “nice clothes” collect dust in our closets, waiting for an excuse to be worn that never seems to come.
Ironically, capital-F “Fashion” seemed to have developed a flair for the survivalist in the most recent pre-pandemic fashion weeks, but their looks don’t seem at all predictive of what we’re going through now.
The runways expressed the swelling panic surrounding the impending climate crisis. Demna Gvasalia brought the sea level all the way up to the third row at his March show for Balenciaga, where models sloshed down a water-covered runway. The previous season, Marine Serre showed us what we might be wearing after a possible environmental apocalypse.
However, the apocalypse came early this year, and we all had to figure out how to dress to survive without going out and buying a new wardrobe. But what are we going to wear once we can go back into public again?
History tells us that after great tragedy, fashion often seems to veer towards the fantastical and celebratory. Christian Dior showed this with his New Look in 1947. The look’s tiny corseted waist and long skirt celebrated the lift of World War II’s material rations, which had caused so many ateliers to simplify their designs to save fabric. The look was greatly influential to modern fashion, to the point that we still call it the “New Look” more than 70 years later.
Maybe this is what will drive fashion post-pandemic: the need for a reason to celebrate and get dressed up. We’re already seeing a new hunger for luxury fashion in places that have started to open back up. In Guangzhou, China, an Hermés flagship store brought in more than $2.7 million in revenue on its first day open after coronavirus lockdowns were lifted in the country.
While we obviously can’t all afford to shop at Hermés, the attitude remains the same. The outfits we threw on while running late for our 8:30 classes are too similar to the outfits we’ve been riding out the pandemic in. We're going to want to wear “real” clothes that feel important because the chance to be in a real classroom with real people is exciting again. We get to be seen again, and not just from the shoulders up!
I know the pandemic won’t be gone overnight. It’s going to be a slow climb up to get back to something that feels normal, if we ever even make it there. But when we start to let some of our guard down, there will be so many small moments worth celebrating.
The first day of class or first night going out since getting back on campus will only feel more special after what could feel like the longest summer of our lives. We’re going to have to dress for the occasion.