Life During Quarantine 14: Fashion During the Pandemic


That’s the word we keep hearing for the level of disruption that COVID-19 has brought to our economy and our social lives. Today’s focus is on how the fashion industry has been affected by more of us staying at home. With customers working from home, office dress codes saw a distinct shift into more casual styling with loungewear hailed as the defining trend of COVID-19. ‘Zoom Dressing’ resulted in tops outperforming the bottom categories YoY globally. On an item level, sell-outs moved away from formal styles and into snuggly T-shirts, hoodies, and sweatpants. Also, the closure of gyms paired with the influx of virtual workouts boosted demand for activewear! As we hunker down and see our collective incomes contract, the fashion industry is also in crisis. Factories in Europe and Asia are shutting down, either to stem the spread of coronavirus or because brands are closing stores and canceling orders. The Boston Consulting Group predicts that fashion sales in 2020 could drop by a quarter or even a third compared to 2019, Before the 1918 flu epidemic, “People didn’t wash their clothes nearly as often as we do now, with the exception of undergarments,” says Allison Pfingst, fashion historian and archivist, and advisor of the Fashion Studies department at Fordham University. A decade after the first electric washer hit the market, very few households had one.

“You can imagine how difficult it would be to do your family’s household laundry by hand, especially in the midst of a highly contagious pandemic when you’re likely taking care of someone who is ill,” Pfingst says. That pushed delicate or fussy clothing and voluminous undergarments out of women’s closets, bringing in slimmer clothing shapes, sturdy fabrics. Designers including Donatella Versace, Rick Owens, and Guram Gvasalia of Vetements have indicated they are looking forward to slowing down and creating seasonless clothes. “People are asking, what am I going to invest in?” Moylan says. She thinks we’ll focus on what she calls “wardrobe builders,” things like blazers, wide-leg pants, sweater dresses, and pleated skirts’ fade in the wash. Once we get sweatsuit fatigue (it’s coming), we’ll reinvigorate the kinds of clothing that are one step above PJs: wrap dresses, caftans, easy blouses, and wide-leg loose-fitting pants that make us feel like queens of our realm instead of prisoners.

Colored and printed masks, particularly for childrenswear, are becoming more commonplace, as well as licensed designs from musicians.

Nostalgic fashion can be used as a form of escapism as consumers face global issues including the pandemic, recession, and civil unrest. At the start of the pandemic, retailers pivoted their supply chains to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for front line workers. As lockdown measures ease and hygiene remain front of mind, this category has become an area of investment in the post-coronavirus world.  Already popular in Asia due to the influence of streetwear combined with pollution concerns, coronavirus has transformed the face mask in the Western world as the unexpected accessory of 2020. With some countries requiring face coverings to be worn in public, non-medical masks have become a hot category to invest in now and in the future. Colored and printed masks, particularly for childrenswear, are becoming more commonplace, as well as licensed designs from musicians. Trends will continue to evolve as these become an everyday accessory with a return to school, work, and public events (keep in mind for festival season). Post-pandemic, there will be a rise in demand for antibacterial fabrics and finishes, particularly for sports and outdoor gear. Look to Uniqlo for best practices, that have been using anti-bac finishes on its Dry Ex activewear and Heattech lines since 2011. The question every retailer wants to know, is loungewear over? The short answer is no, but it is evolving as consumers transition out of lockdown.

With 25-30% of the US workforce estimated to start working from home several days a week by the end of 2021, comfortable fabrics and casual dressing will be favored as part of the new way of working. With the changing seasons and consumers venturing outdoors, loungewear will need to elevate to leisurewear. Promote outfits that can be worn both on the couch and to meet friends (at a distance) in the park. When people fell on hard times after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, excessive trends such as maximalism and bold logos came to be considered bad taste and fell out of favor. Pre-COVID, minimalism was already poised for a comeback, with Daniel Lee’s appointment at Bottega Veneta and the success of Scandi Style dressing propelling a simpler, cleaner aesthetic back in focus.  The kindness economy is another trend. As retailers rose to support those affected by COVID-19, the concept of the ‘kindness economy’ – where consumers are now more alert to how businesses are treating their workers and the planet – was coined. More than a trend, it’s a shift in mindset that will continue to develop post-coronavirus. With retailers waking up to racial injustice, authenticity and transparency to social causes are paramount and brands need to go beyond posting about it to upholding the measures they’ve publicly set to drive real and positive change.

It takes a crisis to form a tactic and fashion is no exception. Some of the best designs were born from struggle. Coco Chanel created women’s couture pieces from foraged fabrics when materials were scarce around the period of the First World War, such as jersey men’s underwear. This led to a huge shift in womenswear from restrained corsets to comfortable attire, making Chanel the innovative brand to beat. During the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, surgical face masks became a staple item worn at all times both indoors and outdoors due to their essential protection. Escapist fashion of the 1930s and 40s originated from an epoch of political upheaval and future uncertainty. Restricted to repairing and reusing, creative remaking efforts became forms of expression during these times of confinement. ‘Escape and Evade’ maps were printed onto durable silk during the 1940s to be easily concealed under soldiers’ clothing. These maps were then re-used to produce items of clothing post-WWII when fabrics were still being rationed. Similarly, the crisis that we are now finding ourselves in will undoubtedly initiate a shift in how we interpret fashion. Like the effect of past world wars and pandemics, we too will have to focus on quality over quantity, practicality over vanity.

“Fashion weeks will certainly look different. That became immediately obvious when travel restrictions were put in place, with no one, however important they might be, exempt from travel bans and nationwide lockdowns. (One thing in fashion over which Anna Wintour remains powerless.) The pre-collections in May were immediately affected – those who follow the autumn/winter shows hosted in February and March, typically lavish travelling spectacles in which luxury brands fly guests to far-flung locations. Prada was set to host its Resort 2021 show in Japan, Gucci in New York, Chanel in Capri, and Max Mara in Saint Petersburg. What happened to those is indicative of the one certainty about the future of fashion shows and, in fact, the fashion industry in general: there is ‘no one size fits all’ model. All change here.”

“Self-styled mavericks will always dress as if they don’t care in an attempt to build a myth. The question for the rest of us is whether the newfound comfort we might have found in lockdown is here to stay, or whether traditional clothing norms will be reasserted. This may seem like a small point in the grand scheme of things, but the vital question of whether coronavirus will lead to a different world applies to clothing just as it applies to anything else, no matter how much you may wish to distance yourself from fashion.”

While we have no problem sitting at home, self-quarantining to stop the spread of COVID-19, we’re admittedly starting to get antsy. We no longer find joy in spending a full day in pajamas (who would have thought?!), and throwing on a blazer for a weekly Zoom meeting is beginning to feel stale. Our regular clothes have been calling, tempting us to put together full work-from-home outfits. But, of course, that comes with specific criteria. Since we’re still sitting on couches and at kitchen tables, our WFH looks need to be comfy and cozy on top of being cute. We’d like to keep our sweatpants in the mix, but also find fun ways to accessorize. And, incorporating a few spring trends wouldn’t hurt, either — our old, fashion-loving selves are itching to come up with some clever idea

Cynthia Kosciuczyk, MBA
Cynthia Kosciuczyk, MBA
I took the less-traveled roads which led to many careers. Each of these contributed to my unique mix of expertise: science research, teaching, food, art, and textiles. Owning and operating my own businesses (a bakery, a gallery, and a consulting business) thrust me into the driver seat of learning many diverse roles from customer service to public relations and resulted in my unique management style. Participating in the creation of startups, working in design, and my own businesses and technology endeavors. My quest for knowledge and seeking out the best has turned me into a networking enthusiast. A lifelong passion for textiles and Persian rugs taught me an array of professional skills such as research, writing, and community events. Networking resulted in a multitude of business opportunities. My experiences include Management, Entrepreneurship, Sales, Design, Descriptive Writing, Business Strategy, Color, and Textiles. Every facet of my work and life comes together like pieces of a puzzle. I strive to be a phenomenal networker and problem solver who continues to learn and grow.

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