A dressing down?
Updated: Apr 29, 2020
As has probably nearly every other person in this world, I have been reading and watching with avid interest all of the surmising going on in regard to our way of life after Covid-19. When things start to return to normal, what will the new normal look like? That topic begs a post in and of itself. But, having been involved in the world of luxury lifestyle and fashion for most of my career - which trust me is a long, long time - I have been following, amongst so many other issues, the focus on dress codes, what we will wear and how fashion itself will look after the pandemic has finally blown over. We all know the fashion industry itself is in a world of pain - from manufacturing, to delivery, retail and sales, the list of hard-hit variables goes on - with many fashion houses, as well as young designers flagged as, sadly, not going to be able to make it out of the woods. But what has stood out to me amongst all the speculation is the fact that most - if not all - of the reports and forecasts I have read have unerringly leaned to the side of comfort wear as being the dress style of choice, post pandemic. There does not seem to be any other outcome garnered from the research and analysis.
I however, disagree.
Obviously, what is currently out there on most social media channels is a guess at best - that is pretty standard. One can really only "guesstimate" at this current point of time as we have no parameters, no guidelines, no real background to go on. Indeed, the pandemic itself has been described as a Black Swan - an unpredictable event that is beyond what is normally expected of a situation and has potentially severe consequences. Black swan events are characterized by their extreme rarity, their severe impact, and the widespread insistence they were obvious in hindsight - but again, I cannot concur. This pandemic was foreseen by so many of us involved in future forecasting, and was highlighted time and time again - it wasn't an unforeseen event, and it was not entirely unpredicted, it was simply a matter of when. But I do have to agree on one thing - it was beyond normal expectations, and it does have severe consequences, so there is that - maybe it is a Grey Swan for lack of a better term? Actually, in 2016 my team and I wrote a paper on the future of health - the forecast included that we would see, in the coming years, the rise of virtual doctors, extended age, genetic modification, and robotic care, as well as the pointed directive that disinfectant would become a top-level priority and disinfective light surfaces should be considered to destroy bacteria on a large-scale. None of us specializes in healthcare. I can only begin to imagine what health care researchers and analysts had been forecasting. It would have been absolutely frightening.
So, it is with much interest that I have been following the forecast of comfort wear as the major fashion style to emerge from the pandemic and become our wardrobe of the future. As futurists/forecasters we look at patterns, early adopters, demographics, socio-economics etc - to name but a few - as well as the life cycles of trends, to predict what consumers will want next, and why. It stands to reason that consumers will want comfort wear as globally, billions of us are sitting at home under strict quarantine. But that is now. That is what we want now. I am sure the data will support that, and show a surge in online searches and sales of tracksuits, yoga pants etc. But to quote Steve Jobs: "Our job is to figure out what they‘re going to want before they do…. People don‘t know what they want until you show it to them. That's why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page." And, as I said, comfort wear is what is written on the page - in bold, black ink - right now.
I think we would be remiss if, as researchers and forecasters, we just went with that. Before Covid-19, we were already witnessing the tail-end of Athleisurewear. It had effectively reached its tipping point, and was on a downward slide, with denim and its sustainability makeover starting to become the style directive of choice. Not particularly surprising, seeing as we in our area, had been forecasting the rise of Athleisurewear and the casualization of fashion since 2009. It enjoyed an unprecedented upsurge, and remained there for years, as we all became enamored with the rise of comfort in our wardrobes and dressing for life-on-the-move (ironic no, we were dressing in comfortable fashion for life on the move - and now we are dressing in it for life without movement- therein lies its versatility).
And while of course, I believe we will never really eradicate it entirely from our wardrobes - and why should we? - I simply don't agree that it will be the key style direction after lockdown. For one thing, we will have had endless weeks of sitting around - or running around at home, depending upon your situation - in our comfortable clothes: track pants and sweat tops. Most of us have foregone make-up as well. But when this is all over, when we are finally allowed back out into the real world, when we can physically meet up with friends and family, when we can go out to bars and restaurants again, when we can start to date face to face, when we can finally escape the confines of our homes - will we seriously step out in our leg-ins and tees, sans makeup? The clothes that we spent weeks, or even months in - no matter how stylish?
I think the human condition is pre-ordained to celebrate. To find joy in the moment, to put our best foot forward, to desire to make an impression and to stand-out and shine. As humans, we generally celebrate change. And I fervently believe that after this is all over we will have huge cause to celebrate, and that in itself will drive forward a new sense of creativity.
A new flamboyance, a new individuality will arise as we embrace our new reality. It does not necessarily have to be over-the-top, and it does not necessarily mean high-end glamour or show-stopping style, but I forecast that fashion will up the ante as an extreme form of personalization - not only to resurrect itself, and generate sales - but with a new focus on slowing down the proliferation of fast fashion. Many of us have had weeks to focus on who we really are, what we stand for and how we mean to continue. Like it or not, our fashion choices are a reflection of this. And in the main, I predict we will look to beautifully made garments that not only represent a slowdown in fashion cycles, but also reflect our renewed interest in embellishment,
handmade, longevity, and a life that should be lived with all the joie de vivre we can muster. Lessons will have been learnt, and we will desire to express these in the most fundamental way we can, through our clothing choices.
It remains to be seen if I am right. Only time can tell. But at the moment, many of us have plenty of that.