People May Never Dress The Same Again After Coronavirus, Experts Say

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Fashion in the age of the coronavirus isn’t complicated. From loungewear sets to stacks of sweatpants, people are by and large reaching for what’s comfortable and practical. Anything that requires too much thinking — say, a dress with an actual zipper or pants with buttons — has generally been relegated to the part of your wardrobe that you’ll dig into once this is all over. Whenever that time comes, expect to see a range of ensembles on the street.

“I do believe we will dress up for special events,” Dawnn Karen, a fashion psychologist and author of Dress Your Best Life, tells Bustle. “But work attire will become lax. At a psychological level, people will still be fraught with anxiety. This has scarred us, and this will affect how we present ourselves to the world externally due to the inner turmoil the pandemic has caused.”

In the post-pandemic world, Karen hypothesizes that clothing and accessories will be viewed through the lens of safety and functionality, with aesthetics playing a secondary role. Face masks and gloves will become more ubiquitous, and people may embrace modest dressing more universally. “You’re going to see variations of head garb — masks, scarves, turbans,” she says.

How else will everyday fashion change after COVID-19? Below, the experts break it all down.

Will coronavirus change fashion?

Yes, most likely, argues Jean McElvain, associate curator of the Goldstein Museum of Design at the University of Minnesota. At the very least, they’ll probably be tired of “waist-up dressing” and feel more compelled to go the extra sartorial mile when they can begin seeing friends, family, and colleagues IRL.

“When people start to go back to work and circulate with friends in public, I expect there will be some interest in dressing up,” McElvain says. “People are quite reluctant to wear clothing that requires ironing or dry cleaning during quarantine, as dressing is an inherently social practice. This falls under the mentality of, ‘Why put time into primping and wearing nice clothing if no one is going to see it?’”

While some may dress up and groom themselves for personal pride, there’s typically “some performative aspect to selecting what to wear,” McElvain explains. As such, more chances to be seen in public equals more effort being put into one’s appearance.

“Generally there is less emphasis on ensemble creation for a one-hour Zoom meeting, for example,” she says. That means, once in-person gatherings resume, there's a chance people might embrace the structured pieces they abandoned during quarantine like bras and jeans. But stylish sweatpants, leggings, face masks, and head coverings may linger for quite some time.

How will fashion change after coronavirus?

Head-to-toe looks will probably become more commonplace, with folks embracing the idea of carefully curated outfits over whatever sweatpants happen to be on the floor next to the bed.

“I expect to see more emphasis on total ensembles, possibly a look involving matching accessories,” McElvain predicts. “Even where someone’s personal aesthetic is more eclectic, there may be a tendency to attend to details. I also think face masks will continue to be absorbed as a fashionable trend for a short time, with efforts to personalize and stylize their use — it’s interesting how they have become a political statement.”

Other trends to look for post-pandemic? “I find myself wondering about heels, although I think women that like wearing them will be ready to strap on a pair,” McElvain says. “I myself am getting pretty used to my slip-on tennies.”

Upcycling may also see some energy, as many people simply won’t have the extra spending money they previously did to buy new clothes. “Shopping your closet” could become more than a sustainable mantra, but rather a true movement within the fashion world.

Why do major historic moments change how we dress?

“Historic moments are integrally linked to sartorial response,” McElvain says. “For example, during WWII, women were used to wearing shorter A-line skirts due to austerity measures and available materials. After Christian Dior introduced huge pleated skirts in 1947, women were ready to indulge.”

You can go back even further, according to Joshua Williams, assistant professor of fashion management at the Parsons School of Design. “Specifically, [think] of fashion post-French Revolution,” Williams says. “During the Reign of Terror, children of the aristocrats used fashion as a way to create community and provoke society to bring attention to their lost families and fortunes. They would often wear transparent clothes in public, as well as exaggerated styles such as outrageous hats. They were known as “‘Les Incroyables et Les Merveilleuses.’”

Ultimately, this exaggerated style led to “a simplification of fashion,” according to Williams. “That was more the rage during Napoleon’s reign,” he says. “For example, [there was] the empire waist that was much more comfortable to wear, especially for women, than the layered, extravagant styles pre-war. I see parallels with this move toward comfort and ease of movement happening now.”

How will shopping change after coronavirus?

“Most importantly, this pandemic has made us realize that we have a lot of clothes in our closets we are not wearing,” Williams says. “It’s forcing us to think about what clothes we will likely wear post-pandemic — especially with the idea of moving through the world in more comfort.”

In other words, people will likely come out of the pandemic not only rethinking what they wear, but where they purchase those pieces and why they’re shopping to begin with.

“This has led customers to consider the ramifications of having so many clothes, and consider more specifically how consumerism, especially driven by fast fashion, affects the world,” Williams says. “This awareness, along with a reticence to simply go out and start shopping in public again, may ultimately change how and what we purchase. Already, we are hearing from fashion brands that they will buck the tradition of fashion week and start releasing new styles in more thoughtful ways. This will correlate with more sustainable and local supply chains, as these brands have realized there is a lot of risk in having such a global supply chain in a time of pandemic.”