A hard day’s nightie: will lockdown change the way we dress forever?

With our bras, jeans and shoes furloughed, we’re no longer happy to tolerate restrictive clothing. And fashion brands are responding

Are you a lockdown fashion cliche? Have you spent four months wearing leggings and tracksuit bottoms? Have you furloughed your bra, jeans and handbag? Have you spotted a pair of high heels at the bottom of your wardrobe and quickly closed the door on these unsettling relics of a former life?

Most of us only have to look down at our own bodies to see what lockdown fashion looks like. But beyond day-to-day slovenliness, experts anticipate that this weird situation will have long-term implications for the way we dress.

Seismic world events usually accelerate “changes that were already occurring” in our lives and wardrobes according to fashion historian Valerie Steele.

If the shift towards home-working continues post-pandemic, she points out that it “will have a big effect on your wardrobe. If you’re only in the office one day out of four, you might need only 20% of the kind of dress-up clothes from before.”

The formal suit – in peril long before coronavirus – is likely to become more marginalised. Instead, we are likely to adopt informal, sports-influenced clothing, following another long-term shift. “The trend from the 1970s has been more and more casual,” says Steele, “and people have been wearing sweatpants [as fashion] now for 10 years.”

As we edge away from formality, we veer towards comfort. “People have a higher expectation of comfort at home – even jeans can feel restrictive,” says Francesca Muston, of forecasting agency WGSN.

Muston believes that while we will soon want to look more presentable, we will be less tolerant of clothes that squeeze and chafe. “Hybridisation”, she says, will see retailers “taking categories such as suit jackets, which can inherently feel rigid, and building comfort into them”. Already a glut of products have been launched that feel precision-targeted to the halfway house of semi-lockdown: jeans which “feel like tights”; “slouchable” trouser suits with elasticated waists.

Calik Denim’s Skinlithe jeans ‘feel like tights’.
Calik Denim’s Skinlithe jeans ‘feel like tights’. Photograph: Eric Kvatek for Calik Denim

The continued rise of online shopping will also have a big impact. Retailers design differently for online, says Muston, in order to avoid returns, which dent their margins. Most of us are equally keen to avoid the faff of the post office returns queue – particularly during a pandemic – so it suits everyone for garments we find online to offer “flexible sizing”.

The tent dress – inspired by Molly Goddard’s gargantuan tulle fluffs – is the ultimate online shopping piece, says Muston. “It fits easily and looks dramatic on screen.”

That silhouette was everywhere last year, when summer was a sea of oversized spotty Zara dresses. Lockdown has its own version: the “nap dress”, white, gauzy and Victorian-looking, aimed towards Instagram types with the time and privilege to spend lockdown having a big, photogenic swoon.

Bralettes are another perfect item, far easier to buy online than underwired bras, more comfortable than the “Hello Boys!” contraptions of days of yore. Lululemon’s latest bra launches, for example, speak to the particular weirdness of the 2020 lifestyle. With names like “Free to be elevated” and “Like a cloud”, they are “intended for yoga, but can be comfortably worn for the whole day”.

But there is more to lockdown fashion than forgiving, stretchy elastic. Perhaps the most significant shift many experts predict, post-pandemic, is one of attitude.Many have found lockdown succour in clothing, but often not as “shopping therapy”. Instead, people have been tie-dying clothes, and posting the pictures on Instagram; teenagers have been knitting their own version of a Loewe cardigan worn by Harry Styles and putting the results on TikTok. “We get a short-lived dopamine hit from impulse buying,” says Muston. “But this crisis has shown a different way to get those happy hormones.”

Harry Styles in his Loewe cardy and Busy Philipps wearing tie-dye by Dannijo.
Harry Styles in his Loewe cardy and Busy Philipps wearing tie-dye by Dannijo. Composite: Nathan Congleton/Getty Images/@busyphilipps/Instagram

With stories of so many supply chain horrors that have been exposed by the crisis – from Leicester to China to Bangladesh – it’s hard to think of fast fashion and feel good. Such revelations have sparked turning points before. In the 1920s, says Alison Matthews David, author of Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present, “after many high-profile horrors like the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in NY that killed 146 garment workers, there were struggles for safer and more hygienic labour conditions.”

With an economic crisis looming, says trend forecaster Emily Segal, “we are going to see a collapse of the type of cycles that brought us big trends”. The way that clothes, and adornment, are expressed in culture and economics is shifting, adds Segal, and we must play our part in ensuring it shifts the right way.

The best-case scenario for fashion, after the pandemic, is not a sea of mass-produced elasticated waistbands, comfortable as that would be for us shoppers. When we start feeling secure enough, financially and otherwise, to feel the joy that can be found in a great piece of clothing, we must use secondhand; support companies which play their part in improving the world; and think about what we can make ourselves.


Hannah Marriott

The GuardianTramp

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