When discussing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on fashion, people often think of matching sweatsuits, athleisure, or wearing business casual from the waist up only. It makes sense. In such a difficult year, perhaps putting on a pair of jeans only to sit at a desk in your poorly insulated student home was not the most desirable scenario. That being said, as we slowly return to normalcy, I, for one, am excited for the changes to fashion that will inevitably come.
During the times of strict provincial lockdowns and safety measures, mundane outings like grocery shopping at the Kingston Farmers’ Market became my runway (or at least my opportunity to change out of my athletic shorts). A look into my closet became a disappointing reminder of how many social outings we missed over the past year, but with that came the desire to make the most of every trip outside my house. With my mask hiding my face and preventing much social interaction, I took to experimenting with different clothing combinations to represent myself.
With trends from the rise in dress sales to more extravagant runway pieces, I don’t think I am alone in my desire to ditch my lazy clothes for pieces that compliment my unique style and aesthetic. As someone who has always been an appreciator of fashion for artistic and self-expression, I am more than ready to start dressing up again.
Fashion has long been a product of its social climate, from the miniskirts of the 60s to signify women empowerment to the rise of punk aesthetics in the United Kingdom aimed to counter the monarchy. Even the vibrant glamour of the 1920s was largely a response to the world’s desire for liberation after the tragedies of World War I and the Spanish Flu. After a period of war and sickness, society wanted to break traditions, embrace extravagant party culture, and reclaim their space in public- and they needed their wardrobes to reflect that. Similarly, we are currently seeing a movement towards using fashion to take up space and be outwardly expressive in ways we were unable to over the past year. During social isolation, many people’s lives became monotonous as governments placed restrictions on our normal ways of living. Creativity and playful fashion help provide an escape from the mundanity that encompassed the past 16 months.
Post pandemic Haute Couture shows thus far have displayed loud prints, mixes of bold colours, and eye-catching fabrics. Valentino’s Fall 2021 couture collection exhibited beautifully coloured Ostrich feathers that guided movement and drew attention to its wearer. Azzaro’s Fall 2021 runway-centred sequin blazers and low plunging jumpsuits are reminiscent of the glam rock scene that dominated the 1970s. High fashion houses are not showing an excess for the sake of excess but are rather catering to society’s craving for glamorous going-out looks.
This emergence of colour, pattern and texture from major fashion houses has trickled down into the mainstream, with luxury retailers adding more wearable versions of these trends. At a quick glance at most fashion blogs, we see bold blues, orange, hot pinks and vibrant greens sometimes mixed within the same outfit. It seems that the white and beige minimalistic city aesthetic is being pushed aside for pieces that demand attention and perhaps some glares from old-fashioned individuals.
This is by no means passing judgment on those who still prefer their athleisure, comfort clothes, or more subdued hues. After all, fashion is for utility and the comfort of its wearer.
I do feel, however, that a great number of people want to experiment with fashion and will find it in themselves to do so as restrictions are lessened. I think the pandemic has made people realize that the freedom to express yourself in public is not something we can take for granted and should be further taken advantage of.
Dressing boldly may have once been dismissed as a cry for attention, but especially after the past year, I now see it as a necessity for liberation and self-expression. The return to normalcy can spark worry, feelings of hope, and optimism towards the future that is likely to be reflected in our wardrobe. Experimenting with fashion can bring a certain joy and be used to express our desire to be seen in the world again. The carefree nature of maximalist dressing helps us emerge from dark, difficult times into a more joyful and lighthearted way of being.
While some argue that fashion is a frivolous thing in the grand scheme of post-pandemic life, it provides feelings of joy, hope, and liberation desperately needed. After hiding behind masks and computer screens for the past year, it is more important than ever to let our outfits speak to our personalities. While past trends prioritized comfort clothing to get through the difficult year, the shift towards extravagant statement pieces provides a breath of fresh air in an otherwise bleak period. I, for one, will be making the most of all of my library visits, downtown walks, and in-person lectures, and I am excited to see those who choose to embrace the return to bold and expressive fashion.