First, a pointed toe, and then a shiny leg. Fringe falls and slowly a woman emerges from between the curtains. The spotlight flicks on and loud brass instruments play. The room fills with dancers in rich purples kicking and swaying. No longer are you counting pennies and staying up at night waiting for the dreaded call from the men in green.
The anguish of World War I gave way to the roaring twenties. Characterized by lavish parties and a humm of excitement, and above all, flappers.
Does this desire to put on a dress and dance feel familiar?
In the wake of the months-long battle, a growing economy, emerging middle class, and urbanization sparked rapid changes in people’s everyday lives. Jazz music buzzed on street corners, and people started acting differently. Women gained selfhood through their sexuality, and tired of heavy skirts that hit the floor, they turned towards shorter hemlines and slimmer silhouettes.
Fashion was a symbol of dignity and rebellion, and above all a fresh start.
People respond to change by drastically altering what they wear. During World War II, increased factory labor inspired women to wear large headscarves and wedged heels, as their safety was just as important as their look.
Soon after the war ended, Haute Couture fashion house, Dior, came out with their “New Look” silhouette, a softer and more feminine tapered waist with a full skirt. Recently, after the 2008 recession, a repaired economy led to designers emblazoning their logos on garments and consumers gained a sense of worth by adorning them.
The 2020 pandemic and subsequent recession have, much like wartime, put a halt on the industry considered non essential. The conditions for fashion are especially dire. Overconsumption and fast fashion have dominated the industry receiving criticism even prior to this past February. Instead of making investments, most people enjoy purchasing cheaper trends from corporations using excessive carbon energy to produce garments in large under regulated international factories.
With lockdown compounding on the newfound financial instability many face themselves under, the fast fashion industry is all but dead. And as everyone is stuck at home, some forecasters predict big changes.
“It is . . . likely that we will develop some sort of Pavlovian association with the clothes that became the uniforms of our isolation and our impotence; that to see them will send us subconsciously down a wormhole to the pandemic; that what we will need is exactly the opposite.” says writer, Vanessa Friedman.
In a piece for The Times, she predicts that we will crave our fancy dresses. We will be ready to invest in lifetime pieces made sustainably from independent designers who reflect our need for a cultural shift.
People have always used clothes as a means to convey emotion, be it a celebratory wedding dress, or the office staple of a collared shirt.
In 2020 as the world is dressing for zoom calls, it is also dressing for its uprising. But protestors often have style at the back of their minds. Activists advise light comfy layers that can easily be walked in and can protect from the weather. With the pandemic lurking, activists should be wearing what makes them able to protest safely. Although, even in instances where safety is of concern, there is evidence that drab pandemic era dress feels stale.
Though, that wasn’t the case for Gabriel M. Garmon, a stylist and Black creative from Harlem. As part of a protest for Black Lives Matter and the reaction to the murder of George Floyd, Garmon gathered his team on 125th.
“We wanted to honor him and our other lost brothers and sisters in a way that felt appropriate,” said Garmon.
A mass that soon swelled to over one thousand people marched down the street in suits. Passerbys viewed in awe as men showed up in vibrant ankara prints, and modern tailoring akin to Harlem.
“I almost wore Vans with my suit, but I knew I couldn’t do this by halves. This was really about changing the narrative and showing the power of dress.”, fashion consultant, Elias Hightower, told Vogue in early June.
In a time characterized by the stress of months pent up indoors and a reemergence into a recessed, global turbulence, clothes elevate. Holes are wearing in to more than just the cheap pairs of leggings that have carried us through these past few months. Once we finally rid ourselves of the cheap elastic, will we be wearing suits?
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