The pandemic has been bad for most industries, and fashion, in particular, has been hit hard. Retail stores have shuttered as people choose to stay indoors. Workers have been laid off as sales figures are projected to dip by a total of 93% on the year
Fashion seems to have lost its relevance to the individual as well. With offices closed, we don’t have to observe dress codes while working from home. There’s less joy in going out with establishments and venues shutting down. A lot of fancy dresses and business suits are gathering dust in people’s wardrobes.
Most of all, uncertain economic times shift our behavior as consumers. Clothing may be one of Maslow’s basic needs, but having affordable accommodation and food rank higher. How can fashion continue to be relevant in the future that’s taking shape in the wake of Covid-19?
Speculating on trends
Recent months have taught fashion enthusiasts a few things about the industry and its consumers. We’ve adapted our consumption to the times, but buying clothes hasn’t ceased entirely. It has simply shifted to a different area, one that’s largely functional.
Yes, athleisure is here to stay. It lies at the intersection of several needs. We need something comfortable to wear all day indoors and suitable for heading outside in a pinch, such as when we need to run errands. And it doesn’t hurt that yoga pants are perfect for actually working out at home when you have the time.
However, history has also taught us that only the appearance of fashion changes during a traumatic global event, such as wars, recessions, or pandemics. Once things shake out and settle down, however, you’ll find that the trends that emerge were actually in motion well before the disruption began.
Recalling fashion’s function
Good news: we won’t all be dressing uniformly in fleecewear and sweatpants for the next decade. But a lot of people are actually rather indifferent to this point. It’s not unusual to hear them express disdain for the apparently frivolous, often extravagant nature of the industry itself.
What’s the function of fashion, anyway? Mere clothing isn’t fashion. Healthcare workers have long worn face masks, and they became mainstream out of necessity during the pandemic. But they only became fashionable when people started customizing them and buying them in designer prints.
Fashion has historically played a role in social hierarchies, serving to communicate a person’s occupation or status. But as fashion become commercially accessible to the masses and social mobility increased, that function diminished.
The real reason we care about fashion hasn’t changed, though. We use it to communicate membership in a cultural group.
Moving forward, then, your future fashion choices have the potential to make a difference in something that concerns us all: the issue of sustainability.
The fashion industry has been heavily criticized in this respect. Despite its annual value of $3 trillion globally, around 2% of the world’s GDP, an estimated 2/3 of textile product goes to landfill. Only 15% of that is recycled.
We can use fashion to demonstrate that we are part of a culture that cares about sustainability, and not by wearing “Save the Planet” messages on our hoodies.
It’s time to acknowledge that owning more stuff doesn’t make you happy. Whatever you need for your wardrobe, see if you can’t first upcycle, mend, or buy secondhand.
The need for new clothing won’t go away. Offices will reopen, and people will start going out once again as the virus comes under control.
The fashion industry will rebound. But if you must buy something new, see to it that your purchase supports brands running on a circular economic model, committed to minimizing waste on every level.