How could the coronavirus shape fashion choices?
Now, we don’t want to assume too much, but it’s probably safe to say that you’ve been wearing a lot more sweatpants lately – or if not, leggings, maybe. Or maybe you have customized your own face mask. For many of us, these statewide stay-at-home orders have influenced the way we dress, the way we think about clothing.
And it got us thinking about how this historic moment might shape the future of our clothing, so we called Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell to help us think about it. She is a fashion historian and author of “Worn On This Day: The Clothes That Made History”. And Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is with us now.
Welcome. Thank you very much for joining us.
KIMBERLY CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Thanks for inviting me, Michel.
MARTIN: So you were recently quoted in the online publication Quartz saying that the biggest changes in fashion don’t come from trends. They come from major societal disruptions like wars.
CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Yeah. Well, the French Revolution, for example, did away with a lot of the exaggerated fashions associated with the Old Regime – hair powder, hoop petticoats, lace. Everything that was associated with the aristocracy – everything was gone, and it was a political change as well as a change of fashion.
MARTIN: What about World War II? How has this changed the way people dress?
CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Well, after the extreme hardships of WWII, when things like food and clothing were rationed and were really hard to come by because so much production was going into the war effort, people went went in the opposite direction. And Dior’s new look brought a fad for very long skirts and corsets and very exaggerated fashions that would not have been available or politically correct during the war.
MARTIN: And the current moment? What are the trends that you think could emerge from this moment?
CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: One of the first things that I kind of predicted would happen was the same thing that happened in World War I, that is, beards go out of fashion. And, in fact, very early in this pandemic, the CDC issued guidelines for things like beards and fingernails, as these can be vectors for the virus, but they can also interfere with your protective gear. For example, it is difficult to wear latex gloves on long nails. It is difficult to put a face mask or respirator on a beard.
MARTIN: So let’s talk about the business side for a second. I mean, you have to believe or assume that the industry, the fashion industry, has to feel an economic impact because manufacturing has been shut down in so many places, because so many retail stores are closed. And, of course, you know, tens of millions of people are out of work. So presumably people are not shopping for clothes at the moment. So what do we know – what do we know about how changes in the fashion industry are affecting the types of choices consumers might make?
CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Well, it’s been fascinating for me to watch how fashion brands and consumers adapt to the widespread restrictions. Maybe athleticism will benefit naturally, as people will continue to wear it after the lockdown, maybe more than they felt comfortable before. It’s kind of a double-edged sword, because we buy less because we’re not going anywhere.
But retail therapy is a real thing, and a lot of people are shopping online for entertainment or out of necessity, maybe even for the first time, and they will continue to do so. I mean, I first bought groceries online a few weeks ago just because I had to. But this is something that I will probably continue to do. And retailers are adapting to it of course.
MARTIN: Have you seen any fashion examples that meet what we now consider to be hygienic standards?
CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Designer masks are definitely becoming a thing, but they already were, in fact. During the fall and winter 2019 parades there were a lot of masks on the runway – both the type of protection and the kind of carnival masks. So things that were already percolating in the high fashion arena are now accelerating.
MARTIN: But before you let go, as a fashion historian, what kinds of things do you think you’ll be most interested in reopening the economy, when does that happen?
CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Well, I think we’re going to see a personal style rebirth. It feels like people can’t wait to have a reason to go out again. Rachel Syme, the New Yorker fashion reporter, has started a movement to get people to dress at home every Sunday and post pictures of their outfits just for fun dressing and looking pretty . We can see a real fashion renaissance of people going way beyond just because they’ve been locked up and that personal expression has been stifled for so long.
MARTIN: It’s Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell. She is a fashion historian and author of several books, including “Worn On This Day: The Clothes That Made History”. We joined him in Los Angeles.
Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, thank you very much for talking to us.
CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Thanks, Michel. Stay safe.
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