What Does ‘Best Dressed’ Mean in the Covid-19 Era?

We will most likely feel the effects of the pandemic through the end of 2020. In fact, things might become even more difficult as we head into the winter because of the confluence of the virus and the flu. Meanwhile, Covid-19 is continuing to wreak havoc with our lives and upend all sporting events, concerts, film festivals, and galas. This has forced some to become more resourceful and creative. In place of the real thing, everything is now going virtual.

Virtual Met Gala

On Monday, May 4th, there will be a first-ever High Fashion Twitter Met Gala, #HFMetGala2020, a celebration of the high fashion twitter community, and the 150th anniversary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was created by and for the high fashion twitter community last November. Everyone is invited. There are four categories participants can engage in: Photoset Creation, Brand Challenge, Wardrobe Styling, and Illustration Expression. So far, about 900 have signed up to attend. To quote one hf twitter user: “We said f*ck the virus, we ball!”

The 2019 Met Gala
Photo: Vogue.com

Vogue teamed up with Billy Porter to create the #MetGalaChallenge. If you want to partake in the festivities, all you have to do is sign up and recreate your favorite red carpet look from a previous Met Gala at home. I took a quick look and was very entertained with images of men, women, couples, little children, and pets, letting their imaginations run wild. But naturally, it’s not quite like the real thing which immediately spawns countless best and worst dressed lists. In fact, best-dressed lists are ubiquitous. Every magazine and news outlet has one. This got me thinking. Is it even possible to base a best-dressed list on a virtual world, or is this virtually impossible?

We post our Lookonline’s “New Best Dressed List” at the beginning of the summer. I can already imagine what that List will look like this year, and I guarantee it won’t feature those individuals who can’t get over their own fabulousness. Instead, it will focus on the ones who make a difference, and those who have a truly personal style.

I wondered how our current climate will affect The International Best Dressed List, the granddaddy of them all. Booth Moore wrote an article for WWD in April 2020, “Will the Coronovirus Mean the End of the Red Carpet As We Know It?” As Christian Siriano pointed out, “When family members are sick and dying, people don’t care if you look fabulous.”

Coincidentally, last Saturday, Amy Fine Collins appeared as a guest on Cameron Silver’s “Couture Kibbitz.” It is a new series, the founder of Decades Vintage created after the pandemic forced us to shelter in place. Each 35-minute segment features a different guest and tackles a different theme. The theme of his talk with Fine Collins was naturally, the history of The International Best Dressed List and where it’s heading.

Amy Fine Collins attends the 2017 Met Gala wearing Thom Browne
Photo: nytimes.com

Amy Fine Collins is a member of the Best-Dressed Hall of Fame. Her Rizzoli book, “The International Best Dressed List: The Official Story,” came out last October. Amy is part of the governing body of the current List, along with Graydon Carter, Reinaldo Herrera, and Aimee Bell. During her talk with Silver, she refers to the List as the I.B.D.L The original List was founded by Eleanor Lambert in the ’40s as a way to bring attention to American Fashion.

Eleanor Lambert
Photo: Theconversation.com

Eleanor also conceived New York Fashion Week, The CFDA, and the Met Gala. Amy emphasized Ms. Lambert was always sensitive to what the public wanted, she felt the zeitgeist and always reacted to it. The List always responds to the times. It was born out of crises and came to America at a historical pivotal moment

The I.B.D.L has lived through 5 wars and at least 13 presidents. “We are now in another moment of a cultural shift.” There will undoubtedly be personalities emerging who are leaders from this crisis. Fine Collins pointed out that the last time the List was canceled was during the Iran hostage crises in 1979. There are no plans to cancel the 2020 list.

“Changes in society are what makes the List alive and exciting, and what makes it a permanent record of excellence, and a snapshot of our culture, seen one year at a time through the lens of fashion,” said Amy.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor
Photo: tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com

This week, I reached out to Amy and asked if she thought the List could be based on images posted on Instagram and social media outlets. Fine Collins said they would definitely look at Instagram, which connects all of us in these terrible times. Amy observed that The Duchess of Windsor, who won 17 times before going to the Hall of Fame, was known to complain that some of the voters only saw her in newspapers and magazines. Fine Collins noted that in the age of TV, some personalities were seen by voters mainly on TV.

“Right now, there is nowhere to wear your clothes except at home, but still we are watching closely. The List will definitely reflect that.” Amy observed that we are not halfway into the year, and we don’t know precisely how the current changes will reflect everything. But there will assuredly be personalities emerging from this crisis who are leaders, whether they come from the world of style, entertainment, politics, or medicine.

“At this moment, we are looking for strong style leaders, just as we are looking for strong leaders, period. I am watching closely to see who comes up with innovative ways to wear protective gear; non-conformist, inventive, and individual ways of dressing at home; and ways of sustainably reworking what is already in one’s closet.”

2020 will take into account the whole of the year, and the List will be finalized only shortly before its publication on Air Mail, Graydon Carter’s newsletter, in December, airmail.com. In the weeks leading up to the release of the 2020 International Best Dressed List, Air Mail will have a ballot with “suggestions for nominations.” Voters can vote for suggested names and/or write-in candidates’ names. They can vote whether they are subscribers or not.

FYI, I asked Amy what she was planning to wear to the Met Gala, which has been indefinitely postponed. She admitted that she did not have her outfit chosen yet and was in the process of developing a look with Thom Browne. She hopes they can resume at some point. I told her that one of my favorites is the Thom Browne trompe l’oeil dress she wore to the “Rei Kawakubo: Art of the In-Between” exhibition in 2017. She agreed it’s a “masterpiece” and has become a meme.

Marilyn Kirschner
Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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