I read with interest Peggy Noonan’s May 21 Wall Street Journal article, “A Plainer People In a Plainer Time”. Noonan observed that fashion is a leading indicator of the nation’s mood, and she believes that that COVID-19 is forcing us to pare down and get plainer.
Noonan asked Andre Leon Talley what his thoughts were. ALT agrees with her and feels that the emphasis will be on presenting oneself in a way that is neat, smart, and well-groomed rather than trendy. “I think more people will dress, when we come out of this pandemic, in almost Amish stoicism — a simple uniform of basic wash and dry. It’s going to be difficult for fashion to exist as a mainstream addiction.”
Tom Ford has a different opinion. WWD’s Bridget Foley interviewed the fashion designer and Chairman of the CFDA, “Bridget Foley’s Diary: Tom Ford Says Fashion Will Come Back,” May 29. While Ford believes that fashion needs to hibernate for a while, trust that it is human nature to want to dress, to adorn, to express ourselves, and show off through fashion. Tom recounted that the end of the Spanish flu ushered in The Roaring Twenties. It was a time of consumption, flappers, makeup, and exuberance.
When we start to come out of this pandemic, what will fashion look like? I reached out to several fashion insiders and asked them to weigh in.
Teri Agins, journalist and author (“The End of Fashion”) was honest and to the point: “Dunno… and any predictions now just don’t make sense to me…… People need places to go to wear fashion. This survey/story needs exploration after the cities are back functioning”.
Patricia Mears, the Deputy Director of The Museum at FIT, supposed that some people will dress more plainly. But, she noted that before the pandemic Americans were already so casual; for her, the more exciting trend is to become more ornate. “I’ve noticed younger people are embracing innovative and colorful hairstyles, makeup, manicures, and layered clothing in contrasting prints and colors. In other words, we have a divided fashion sensibility, perhaps akin to our political divide.”
Vogue’s European Editor at Large Hamish Bowles said he’d been inspired by how people have customized their face masks to reflect the joy in dressing up and express individuality. He believes that there will be a need for joyful clothing, and designers will need to create desire. “I think that the nature of social life will inevitably change so we may be looking for different things, but I don’t see a return to new sobriety in dress. Quite the opposite: butterflies emerging from their chrysalis.”
Constance White, the award-winning journalist, editor, and arbiter of culture and style, also thought that creativity in masks would continue to be important. And in these impactful times, Constance predicted a resurgence in message fashion; self-expression as a way to embody the racial tensions. “The Coronavirus will intersect the fight for racial equality. Thus, you might see message t-shirts, message masks, the colors of black liberation on a mask, and a matching t-shirt.” Constance also believes that in the future, customers will gravitate to independent designers.
Fashion historian and author Caroline Rennolds Milbank noted that historically, the most likely precedent that has any relevance today is the great depression of the 1930s. Americans were dressing on a restricted budget. Quality was more important than quantity. Clothes were meant to last and be worn again and again. Women gravitated to designs that were elegant, simple, subtle rather than memorable and flashy. Accessories became more important for changing the look of a dress or suit. A dress, pair of shoes, coat, and handbag are all expected to last for several years.
Ms. Milbank observed that long before the pandemic, “The fashion system was broken and out of touch with our planet’s needs. “Most people have learned the hard way that they need less. Morally, it will be important to hold onto this feeling,” opined Ms. Milbank.
Will people want simpler clothes? Caroline doubts it. They might have more straightforward needs, but what they wish for is photogenic clothing in the age of the iPhone. That means something that will catch the eye even when viewed in miniature. Face flattering for zoom; ruffles, flourishes, easy-to-read-at-a-glance silhouettes for Instagram.
Kate Irvin is a curator and head of the Costume and Textiles department at the RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) Museum. She trusts that we will become more attached to our clothes. The protection they offer and their functionality will become more critical — more attention paid to quality and longevity rather than trends and price points. Fast fashion will suffer, and the emphasis will be on well-crafted well designed, sustainably made garments.
Quality and longevity translate to complexity. “The clothing that we wear, especially when it is ethically and responsibly made is anything but simple. The more transparent we are about that fact, the better off we will all be, especially those traditionally behind the scenes unseen and unheard”.
Cameron Silver, the founder of Decades, author, and fashion director of H Halston and H by Halston has many conflicted feelings for how things will be. But one thing Cameron guarantees: “Once we have the opportunity to present ourselves in public in a less restricted way, people will likely not want to wear sweats or dress in quarantine chic. That will always represent a very painful time”.
Cameron recounted to students at SCAD that “fashion matters because we are not nudists.” People will buy clothes, and there will be creativity. While Cameron understands the appeal of uniform dressing and simplifying, he thinks there will be a creative renaissance. Cameron said he becomes more encouraged about the future when he sees images of Amy Fine Collins. She gets dressed up every day, and posts her images on Instagram.
“Think about how Hollywood has been decimated. There’s no production. There’s no theatre. No shows. Stores are closed. So much vintage and sustainability are promoted through celebrity and red carpet dressing. What will that look like in the future? It will look like something. There will be some type of presentation, but we just don’t know what that will be”.
I spoke with Sandy Schreier by phone on Monday. “In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection” runs through August 18 at the Met’s Costume Center. Sandy recalled that during WW2, there was a limitation on the amount of fabrication one could use on clothing. Factories were being utilized for the war effort. If one had to buy a suit, it was a plain suit without any embellishment.
After the war ended, it took over two years for Americans to get used to being happy and feeling free again. During those post-war years, fashion was still at a lull. Women needed a fashion boost.
In 1947, the couturier Christian Dior presented his first collection. It was a departure from previous styles and the beginning of a new society. The New Look exploded. It was not the most flattering silhouette, nor was it easy to pull off. Many women, including Coco Chanel, criticized it, yet it became the biggest trend because everyone wanted something new and wanted to celebrate the war.
“Once the pandemic is behind us, and we have a vaccine that makes it safe to go out, we will emerge from our cocoons. We will have a new life and a new world and a New Look. We will all start dressing up because we missed it so much. For the generation of young people who never shopped, it really will be a New Look as they won’t have remembered anything but sweats and comfort”, said Ms.Schreier.
Who knows, maybe that New Look will resemble the expressive and exuberant designs of Charles de Vilmorin, the 23-year-old French designer who recently made his debut on Instagram. De Vilmorin’s genderless fall collection comprises colorful quilted jackets and coats with patchwork faces and flowers hearts paired with hand-painted leggings. They are surely destined to become collectibles.
Master colorists Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Christian Lacroix have already taken notice. Charles’s debut prompted Nicole Phelps of Vogue to ask, “Could Charles de Vilmorin be Gen Z’s First Fashion Star”? He very well might be.
The ebullient optimism of Vilmorin’s unique designs resonates. We are not only in the throes of a pandemic but a time of major social upheaval. The streets of America are on fire like they were in 1968. 60’s fashion mirrored the turmoil and rebellion of that era, and it broke longstanding traditions.
In November 1968, fashion designer Adolfo was interviewed by Enid Nemy for The New York Times. He remarked: “Chic and decent clothes are not enough. Clothes should be amusing. Fantasies are important when the world is such an unpleasant mess”.
I could not agree more. I think women will want to flout tradition, break the rules, and express themselves through their clothing. How one decides to do that is subject to personal interpretation. Marylou Luther summed up my sentiments perfectly with her assessment: “I think women will become more individualist and wear whatever they like whenever they like.” Touche!