A Covid Fashion Story
Posted on August 26 2020
Julia Brucculieri is a master's student at Ryerson University in Toronto, where she studies fashion. Her current area of research focuses on accessibility in relation to fashion exhibitions. Previously, she was the Global Lifestyle Reporter for HuffPost, where she covered everything from influencer beauty trends to celebrity style and runway fashion. She has also worked at the Royal Ontario Museum as a research intern. Julia is a self-described pop culture junkie who has been obsessed with fashion for as long as she can remember.
My name is Morgan Bennett and I had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Julia Bruccelieria, after being put in contact by Dr. Alison Mathews David. In this interview, we will be discussing how fashion changes during trying times and try to uncover what the future of fashion will look like as a result of the COVID pandemic.
MB: Based on previous pandemics and wars, we have always seen fashion get impacted. How do you think fashion post-COVID will change? What are some congruent examples?
JB: The biggest change I think we’ll see in North American fashion is the addition of masks as everyday accessories in our lives. So many people have already added masks into their wardrobes as a direct result of the pandemic. It is important to note, however, that masks were a common sight in places like China and Japan, well before the COVID outbreak took hold.
More generally speaking, a lot of people tend to reference the 1920s and 1930s when talking about major fashion changes in trying times. In the roaring ‘20s, the economy was good, hemlines were short, dresses were sparkly and we think of the overall attitude as being fun and fancy-free. After the stock market crashed, clothing, especially for women, became more modest, with hemlines lowering once again. We also saw a change during and after WWII. When the men went away to war, many women entered the workforce and, as a result, began wearing more masculine-inspired utility garments. Post-WWII, we saw the emergence of Dior’s New Look, which put the emphasis back on the female hourglass figure.
It’s tough to say whether we’ll see such changes as a result of COVID, since we’re still in it, I think it’s too soon to really tell. But it will definitely be interesting to see how and if brands try to translate the anxieties and tension the world has been experiencing into their collections.
MB: What causes fashion to change during trying times? What are the biggest variables of change?
JB: I think money is a major factor. For instance, if someone lost their job as a result of COVID, they might be more inclined to save their money for things like groceries and rent. When times are trying or uncertain, people might also place more importance on functionality as opposed to items that are super trendy or meant to last a single season. In other words, pieces like timeless, well-made basics might seem more worth buying than, say, a sequin dress you might only wear once.
MB: How can the change in fashion/trends from a mass event compare and contrast to fashion/trends that change regularly between seasons? Is there a relationship between the two, or not?
JB: Well, fashions that change with the season tend to have some sort of functionality aspect to them -- we see sweaters, layers, and coats to keep warm in winter, and lightweight fabrics, short hemlines, swimsuits for summer. But other aspects, like colors, prints, shapes, and silhouettes might transcend seasons.
It's definitely possible that clothes in the near future will be adapted for this new lifestyle with hand sanitizer and face masks. Winter coats with high necks that double as face coverings actually seem very plausible, and might even exist already. We've seen some brands adapt clothing to fit iPads and iPhones in perfectly-sized pockets, so maybe we will start seeing pockets made specifically for hand sanitizer bottles and coats that come with matching face masks.
Major events (and culture in general) no doubt influence fashion designers and the industry as a whole, so in that sense, you can say there’s a relationship there. Even widespread social, political and cultural movements -- think, Black Lives Matter, for example -- make their way onto runways.
MB: What are your thoughts on masks? Is this a pandemic trend or will these accessories be permanently integrated into everyday fashion? How will masks change the industry?
JB: Similar to your first question, I do think masks will become part of everyday fashion in North America and I think everyone will have a mask at home just like they have hats or gloves. We’ve also seen a bunch of examples of fashion masks in recent months -- Billie Eilish at the Grammy’s in her Gucci mask stands out, and that was before the worst of the pandemic hit. As much as masks might seem like a “trend” here in Canada or the US, I’ll point out again that they’ve been commonplace in countries like Japan and China for years. People in those countries wear masks for a number of reasons, not only to minimize the spread of illness.
Masks have also become somewhat politicized, particularly in the US, with people criticizing others for wearing or not wearing the masks. The masks, like the MAGA hats, have kind of become a symbol of the divide in America.
MB: What outlying factors occurring during the COVID pandemic (things other than the virus itself) will cause unexpected changes in fashion?
JB: I think the economy and peoples’ spending habits will change fashion in some ways. I see the change coming in the form of what we're spending our money on. There are a couple of layers here. First, many people lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, which means spending the money they do have on fashion items might not be a priority. In addition, many consumers have the power to decide what brands to support by choosing where to spend their money. It's important to add that having that choice and some amount of disposable income is a form of privilege. My hope is that the people who can afford to be pickier with their money start spending it on items that support a more sustainable, ethical future. If the demand for these types of fashion items continues, I think they'll eventually trickle down and become even more accessible. For me, COVID has put things into perspective, and staying up to date on the latest trends, while fun, just isn't as important as it used to be.
In terms of the economy, a number of brands have already been struggling just to stay afloat. I think we'll see an even bigger shift to online for many fashion retailers, which isn't necessarily new. But if brands can't adapt to an era in which in-person shopping is secondary to e-commerce, I'm not sure they'll be able to survive.
I think this translates somewhat into the luxury sector as well since we've seen a few digital runway presentations already -- these brands are adapting to the times. There's a good chance we'll see more of that, especially considering it might be more cost-effective in some cases.
MB: Are there any specific predictions you are making now for what fashion will look like in the next six months?
JB: We’ve already seen masks on the runways, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that continues for another season or two, at least. This COVID pandemic has become quite politicized as well, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some designers make political statements with their clothing or runway presentations. Fashion is a tool for communication and plenty of designers take advantage of that already.
On a personal level, I hope fashion looks more sustainable and ethical in the future. I don’t know if that will necessarily happen in the next six months, but maybe in the next couple of years.
MB: Sweatpants….will they continue or drop? Do you think people will be more prone to dress up when normal outings occur once again, or will a casualty to dress continue?
JB: I think sweatpants (and athleisure in general) will continue to be popular, especially considering they were trendy in the mainstream pre-COVID. They’re comfortable and relatively easy to access for many people -- you can buy them at a wide range of price points. But with that being said, there is always a chance that as COVID restrictions become looser and looser, people will start reflecting the excitement and joy that comes along with that in their clothing. That could still mean sweatpants for some people, but for others, it might mean something else -- maybe dresses and more typically formal styles, or maybe tailored pieces. I think that part comes down to personal preference and personal style more than anything.
MB: Following the previous question, how will office workwear change in expectations; will it be more casual or remain the same?
JB: I don’t think I can speak to every sort of office, but for those that already had casual dress codes or no formal dress codes, I imagine things will stay relatively the same. But for law offices, accounting firms, or any client-facing roles, for example, I think the formality of office dressing will stick. Maybe those types of workplaces will add more “casual Fridays” for their employees.
MB: As a response to COVID, do you think there is a possibility of more clothing brands and designers moving to design protective clothing such as gloves, glasses, masks, Ect?
JB: Definitely. I think we’ve already seen so many brands jump on the protective clothing bandwagon, and I think they’ll continue making these products -- particularly masks -- for the foreseeable future. For the fashion brands, it’s kind of a win-win -- they make protective gear and they continue generating revenue. At the same time, the more fashion-forward masks allow wearers to show off their personal style while also complying with suggested health guidelines.
MB: In your opinion, how has the shut down of business been due to mandatory quarantining, changing everyday fashion, and how will fashion change again once things reopen?
JB: There have been some indications that the fashion industry is going through a few changes, particularly in relation to the fashion calendar. A bunch of the major European fashion houses -- Versace, Chanel, Gucci, Prada -- canceled or postponed the cruise shows they had scheduled for May of this year and then we saw fashion houses stage virtual couture presentations to allow for ultimate physical distancing. I think COVID has, in a way, shone a light on the ultra-fast pace of the fashion industry and I hope it inspires brands to slow things down and realize they don’t need to produce five or six collections every year. In addition, people have been spending less on clothing throughout the pandemic, probably for a number of reasons: loss of income due to COVID, not having a lot of places to go, and a focus on the essentials, like food and cleaning supplies.
Things are a little bit different for small brands that don’t have the same financial backing as, say, Chanel or Gucci. For these brands, a drop in sales could be more detrimental, especially if they have physical brick and mortar stores to manage. On the other hand, direct-to-consumer brands or stores that exist solely online, like ASOS or Fashion Nova, might not see that same decline. They might even be thriving at a time like this.
Fashion seems to always be reflective of changing times. New styles are adopted as a product of causation, and our case today, the COVID pandemic acts as this causation. From Julia’s responses, we can predict there will be major shifts in the industry caused by consumers' demands for more essential, sustainable products and protective clothing. The mask has become a critical staple of this pandemic and will continue to be a sign of the times. So in the interest of your health and others, Happy Masking!