What we wear has always reflected our values and ambitions in times of turmoil and uncertainty. Bel Jacobs writes that it is time to change.
Undoubtedly, 2020 will be one of the most challenging and turbulent years in recent memory. Countless experts and commentators have dedicated themselves to analyzing our current upheaval. Fashion is still one of the best places to study cultural change. Caroline Stevenson is the head of cultural and historical studies at London College of Fashion. She says that fashion is a powerful visual marker of today’s times. Trend analysis will reveal the values and aspirations of society in any given period.
It will be interesting to see how trend analysis interprets this period. There have been other times when the world was in trouble. Both World Wars saw a rush of measures to make clothing as practical and economical as possible. To conserve war materials, double-breasted suits were replaced by single-breasted ones. Trouser turn-ups also became obsolete – much to the dismay of male wearers. Zip fasteners were banned after World War One. Elastic was only allowed in women’s underwear. The Great Depression in the 1930s saw a similar trend, as Americans opted for more conservative silhouettes over flippy flapper dresses. Utility clothing was efficient and streamlined and was sometimes lightly embellished. The Imperial War Museum’s siren suit features puffed shoulders and bell-bottomed cuffs. It also has piping decoration, a stylish hood, and piping. The desire to express yourself creatively is strong.
In the 1950s, a new silhouette was born as the world emerged from World War II. This is exemplified by a href= “https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20190129-the-formidable-women-behind-the-legendary-christian-dior”>Christian Dior’s New Look/a>: “Fitted jackets, padded hips, wasp-like waist Christian Dior’s New Look was a great example of a new silhouette that emerged in the 1950s as the world began to recover from World War Two. The New Look was a new image of prosperity.
In times of crisis, design is characterized by pared-down lines. Few cultures will embrace extravagance if the chips are down. Except in the 1960s. This turbulent decade was marked by the civil rights movement, antiwar protests, political assassinations, and the emerging “generation gap.” After centuries of uniformity, the young finally had their wardrobes. They embraced the revolutionary potential that Eastern influences, prints, patterns, and army and navy surplus clothing stores offered. The Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band remains iconic.
What about this new decade, then? How can fashion reflect all the changes and ups and downs the world population has experienced in the last few months? Can it survive store closures and reputational damage? And can an audience of economically distressed and fearful customers be satisfied with the product? What will the future look like if it survives? Fashion futurists spent the last six months working frantically to find answers to these questions. Abi Buller of The Future Laboratory, a strategic foresight consulting firm, says health is at the top of many brands’ agendas. Already, we are seeing clothing that reflects these increased concerns. Diesel’s Upfreshing Collection, for instance, has an “antibacterial” coating.
Caroline Stevenson: Clothes will become an extension of the home, providing comfort and reliability amid global turmoil.
There’s room for both humor and puffed shoulders. Dumbgood’s masks, which feature phrases like “I know too many things about life to be optimistic,” speak directly to Gen Z fans of the streetwear brand. In this new world, defiance is typical. Forecasters are seeing increased survival clothing, modular designs that adapt to various climates and protect their wearer. Geraldine Wharry, a futurist, says that city living conditions will become more complex. She uses Nike’s ISPA to illustrate a creative response: “Improvise.” Scavenge. Protect. Adapt is a four-dimensional design logic inspired by the built environment and tailored toward it.
Nesting is another urge. Stevenson says that as we navigate an uncertain world, clothing will be less of a tool to shape our outward identities, and more like an extension of the home, providing comfort and reliability amid global turmoil. “We no longer dress to be seen. We now demand maximum comfort. Now, we are more likely to value “well-loved,” “cozy,” and “worn-in” garments that let us move quickly. They are the antithesis to fast fashion and represent a new way of understanding style beyond visual representations. In March, the menswear label Band of Outsiders could sell over 1,000 sweatshirts in one day.
Abi Buller: We are regrouping. Rethinking. And we are refocusing.
Digitalization has become a surprising ally in the fight against social distance. Buller says that “Digital Fashion Weeks” is already a reality, attracting a larger audience and allowing virtual participation. Buller says that people will continue to create clothing that focuses on protection in physical and digital spaces.
But the changes are more significant. The 1980s and 90s celebrated exponential growth, personal success, gratification, identity, and consumerism. These have now been exposed as destructive pipe dreams. After decades of expansionism, Buller says we are now contracting, regrouping, and refocusing. Tom Berry, Farfetch’s director of sustainability, agrees that there has been a noticeable increase in awareness about conscious consumption. It’s encouraging. This will, in turn, fuel further changes. People are buying more but buying better.
Berry says that people are willing to pay more for higher-quality items. Unconscious consumption has fallen out of style. This thought must be spread to all levels of the industry. If it seems counterintuitive that you would spend more on one item, consider this: “Lower disposable income means there is less money available for clothing every season.” Fashion historian Allison Pfingst told Instyle Magazine earlier this year that the priority would be given to fashionable clothing for over a few months. Fashion trends are set to be scrutinized as they are the biggest driver of industry speed.
The wartime cabinets were right on the money. Designers are working on it as well. Connolly, a British menswear label, invited Frank Akinsete to upcycle vintage clothing from their previous collections. The photo series showcased the creativity and ingenuity of Akinsete and his fellow Portobello Market stallholders. Christopher Raeburn of the design studio Raeburn recently launched Raefound. It is an evolving, non-seasonal collection of unworn clothing and accessories from the military.
Raeburn said at the launch of this project: “We’re not trying to design new clothes, but a system change.” It’s responsible design.” Raeburn would be thrilled with the young Kevin Germanier and Maddie Williams and initiatives like the Redress Design Award that develop new business models to repurpose and reuse older clothing. GlobalData predicts the resale market will reach a staggering $51bn by 2023. Berry agrees that there has been a lot of interest in the used market. Both consumers are interested in buying pre-owned items but also operate services to help sell unused products.
He continues, “Fashion is still a major part of society both culturally and functionally.” Fashion allows you to express yourself or to connect with others. The industry must fulfill its responsibilities and contribute to a positive future. Buller has high hopes. She asks, “What will fashion look like in 2030?” “Everyday clothing will become more utilitarian. This will make room for a creative digital collection that allows people to continually reinvent their looks while being less wasteful and damaging to the environment. Retail models will also be reinvented, focusing more on circular design and made-to garments.