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009 - (This Is Not) the End of Fashion

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

I apologize for the delayed post - with everything going in this country & around the world, it felt disingenuous to be drawing attention to anything aside from the critical issues at hand, especially to something as seemingly trivial and inconsequential as fashion. However, an article published in the New York Times made me rethink this assertion, and reminded me of the historical importance of fashion and self-expression in the healing process following traumatic events - whether war, disease, or social schism.

“It is a truth that may be hard to imagine in a world devastated by illness and economic insecurity, riven by racism and unrest, but we will get dressed again. Dressed not for the anonymity of the hospital or the essential work force, the heat and heartbreak of the protest, the anomie of the supermarket or the park, but for the next stage catharsis. Capital D Dressed. It is both history and human nature. It sounds ridiculous: Who cares what we will wear when there has been so much tragedy and economic destruction, when old wounds left to fester have been gashed open once again? But the root of that question is as cyclical as history: What will our post-crisis identities look like? What will we want our clothes to telegraph about who we have become, and what these complicated experiences have meant?"

The author, Vanessa Friedman, highlights several historical instances - the lavish adornments of the Renaissance, for example, were a direct response to the unfathomable hardship of the bubonic plauge - “a symptom, perhaps, of people seeking pleasure while they could”. The “flapper” generation in the 1920s rebelled against social norms in both dress and decorum in the wake of the first World War and the Spanish influenza epidemic, just as the hippie and disco movements would reject establishment culture and politics in the latter half of the 20th century.

These changes were not arbitrary – they were a direct reaction to the social and political realities of their times. What better way to show mainstream society that you reject the status quo than by rejecting its dress code?

As to what change will look like this time around, I can only speculate. With glaring inequality in all its forms at the forefront of the global conversation, I’d venture a guess guess that ostentation and flash will continue to fall out of vogue as luxury becomes increasingly discreet. Consumers will be mindful of the economic, social, and environmental impacts of their purchases, and will choose to support independent and minority-owned labels rather than big-name corporate conglomerates. We're also seeing changes at the industry level, as many major houses are shifting away from seasonal collections and pre-season shows in favor of a “see now, buy now” model. The “fast fashion” trend seems to be largely over, as emphasis shifts towards high-quality garments that we can incorporate into our identities. Perhaps more than ever before, what we choose to wear will speak volumes about our beliefs, values, and hopes for the future.

“We will come out of this, like we come out of a war,” said Li Edelkoort, a trend forecaster. “The buildings are still there, but everything is in ruins. We will want two things: security and to dance. We will be aching for something new, to refresh our personalities,” she said. “Eccentric clothes, romantic clothes. It’s going to be the irrational, emotional pull of a … something. The gut punch of recognition that comes from seeing a new way to cast your self. One that signals: “Yes, I have changed. Yes, things are different. Now we emerge in a new world."

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