How Fashion Adapted to a Pandemic
I want to preface by saying I have no idea where to begin with this topic. When writing about something as devastating and widespread as the pandemic, it feels like everything has been said already. At the same time, I don’t think I can say enough about it. It’s impossible to write anything about COVID-19 without acknowledging everything we’ve already heard time and time again from world leaders and neighbors alike- the “unprecedented” times, our “new normal”, the whole works. As a huge fashion nerd, the notion of fashion’s ability to adapt is fascinating to me, but applying this to an event that led to so much loss without first acknowledging the gravity of everything that surrounds a pandemic feels wrong, especially with this month marking the one year anniversary of nationwide lockdowns. Though certainly not the most important facet of our year with COVID-19, the way we dress is a key means of defining what life is like during a global health crisis. Somehow, during such a sudden and dramatic change in lifestyle, the fashion world picked up the pace and evolved to accommodate our safety, comfort, and security. That said, let’s take a look back at some of the most influential changes we’ve seen this year in fashion.
There’s no way I can discuss pandemic-wear without bringing up the essential face mask. Although a baby blue surgical mask is often what comes to mind (and is recommended by the CDC), people all over the world have found creative ways to let their masks shine. With everything from custom reusable masks, to face coverings decked out in glitter and rhinestones, masks have become a fashion statement in 2021. A quick search for “face masks” on Etsy brings up thousands of results with colors and patterns for almost any occasion. Large clothing brands like H&M and Nike have also stepped up their game, introducing face masks to even the most casual clothing shoppers. Even Louis Vuitton offers their own mask, albeit for $355.00. With so many options to choose from, shoppers are provided with a fun addition to their outfits and whether they mean to or not, fashion brands consequently promote public health. These companies’ quick shift to embrace the mask “trend” is an essential part of getting the ball rolling when it comes to face coverings, painting something that (somehow) became controversial in the US as a cute, trendy, and completely normal accessory.
On top of this, matching a mask with your outfit has never been more in style. First Lady, Jill Biden, caused a stir at the first presidential debate with her floral patterned dress and a mask of the same design to match. To many, her tasteful choice in face-covering was the peak of an otherwise extremely concerning debate. Twitter user, Chloe Thatcher Esq., took to social media to state, “I saw @DrBiden wearing a matching floral face mask and shift dress, so I bought a matching floral face mask and shift dress.” Other public figures have followed in Dr. Biden’s footsteps, with matching masks a clear trend at the 2021 Grammy Awards. Artists including Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, and Megan Thee Stallion matched designer masks to their elegant award show wear. With so many opportunities to accent an outfit, the fashion world has welcomed the face mask as everyone’s new favorite accessory, despite its sudden introduction into our lives. They’re a necessity after all, so why not have some fun with them?
The respect I have for people who actually got dressed during quarantine is immeasurable. Sweatpants were my best friend last spring and apparently, I’m not alone. Loungewear saw a massive rise in popularity during 2020, as we traded in our jeans for something a little more comfortable. Oversized joggers, crewnecks, and pull-on shorts are now a staple in anyone’s closet, with flattering silhouettes catered to make anyone stuck at home feel confident. Clothing brands were quick to embrace the sudden demand for more quarantine-friendly options, expanding their loungewear lines to include a wider variety of designs and colors. These styles mimicked those we’ve grown fond of outside of the house, including high waists, tapered legs, and oversized silhouettes that have quickly gained traction thanks to platforms like TikTok. On top of this, matching sets of loungewear were a massive hit. The mix of a color-coded look and the pajama-like feel of a sweatsuit proved to be the perfect fit for life at home. Plus, having an entire outfit pre-matched doesn’t hurt. Not only did a wide variety of brands begin to carry full loungewear outfits, but loungewear shops on Etsy and Depop offered customized options and handmade tie-dye prints. Although loungewear is certainly no new feat, the necessity for more livable options brought this clothing genre to the forefront, giving comfort the credit it deserves. Here’s to hoping this trend doesn’t go away anytime soon.
As Americans made their sudden transition to lockdown life, the US economy faced what was considered the worst recession in American history since the Great Depression. The future looked especially unclear for small businesses, which rely on local customers to keep their livelihoods afloat. In response to this, the call to support our favorite local spots became a defining factor of pandemic life, with Twitter threads listing local restaurants to order from in cities across the country, and public figures calling Americans to shop local during the lockdown. This push to buy from small businesses pertained to small fashion shops as well, especially to those of us who developed a serious online shopping problem in quarantine. From Etsy businesses to Instagram boutiques, to resale shops on Depop, thousands of shoppers turned to small clothing and accessory brands for high quality, unique designs. Not to mention, the growing push for sustainable fashion that continued to gain traction during the pandemic converted customers from large fast fashion companies to ethically made garments from small creators. All of a sudden, fashion was no longer limited to the large corporations that dominated the industry, rather bringing much-needed attention to the little guy during their time of need.
Equally as important, if not more so than the push to support small brands, was the emphasis on supporting black-owned businesses. This summer saw a monumental and long overdue rise in support for the Black Lives Matter movement, as activists across the country expressed their outrage in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and hundreds of other innocent members of the black community at the hands of police. As protestors demanded justice for these disgusting acts of racism, along with change in the racist policies that perpetuated the threats to BIPOC, thousands of Americans began sharing their favorite black-owned businesses that are too often overlooked. Since the fashion industry is predominantly white, the push to support black-owned clothing, jewelry, and accessory brands is a dynamic and extremely important step towards progress in an industry notorious for its lack of diversity. Though there is still a lot of work to be done on behalf of the fashion world to make a more inclusive environment, the Black Lives Matter movement sparked much-needed action in diversifying our shopping habits.
Despite the drastic changes made in the fashion world in response to the pandemic, I want to emphasize that the current state of the world is so much more abstract than the progress in fashion. Though fashion evolution is certainly apparent and interesting to reflect on, the larger effects of COVID are not ones to celebrate. To me, the most difficult part about writing a fashion article centered around COVID-19 isn’t putting the research together, nor analyzing information in a coherent way. Rather, it’s the phrasing of it. How on earth can I write about clothes in relation to something as horrific as this pandemic? How can I be respectful about it? I would love to tie this article up into a neat little bow, but even after living through all this for over a year, the devastation of the virus still leaves me at a loss for words. That’s why I love the way we dress so much. It reflects the world around us in a way that I often struggle to find the words for, defining each moment of our history, once in a lifetime or not.
I can’t wait to see how we define our next moment.