TORONTO — It is no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the fashion industry. With people working from home and adhering to physical distancing, they are changing the way they dress.
Toronto fashion designer Hayley Elsaesser says people are mostly reaching for what is comfortable and practical right now, while dressier clothes have been pushed to the back of people’s closets for when this is all over.
However, whenever that time comes, Elsaesser said Canadians can expect to see a wide range of ensembles on the street.
“I think it may be jarring for some to go from wearing sweats, and being unconfined for months, to suddenly wearing super structured garments. Especially with body changes due to the pandemic, some people’s wardrobes may not work with their current physical self,” Elsaesser said in an email to CTVNews.ca on Thursday. “I think we will see more of a transition for some, with more elevated, breezy and comfy clothes, or fashionable loungewear mixed with more structured garments.”
Elsaesser said fashion might continue to focus on comfortable staples even after the pandemic ends and predicts oversized garments will be a trend for a while. She added that shoppers of her clothing brand are starting to pivot towards dressier garments as summer nears.
“Up until recently people were absolutely going crazy shopping sweats and loungewear, and they still are. However, I have seen people starting to get into the more fashion and summer pieces, likely in anticipation of social distancing loosening and wanting to really soak up as much of the summer as they can,” Elsaesser said.
SWEAT PANTS ARE HERE TO STAY
Toronto lingerie and loungewear designer Mary Young predicts fashion will stay comfortable after the pandemic but will move to statement pieces featuring prints and colours with each season.
Young told CTVNews.ca on Thursday that the negative stigma around wearing sweatpants in public has already changed amid the pandemic.
“We’ve seen a bit of a shift, I would say even in 2019 to not only athleisure as in leggings and the stuff you wear to the gym, but taking that early 90s fashion of oversized pants, comfy crews and loose, oversized shirts — coming back in a bit of a tailored way,” Young said in a telephone interview.
Young said the pandemic’s athleisure trend has moved beyond sweat suits people would typically only wear at home and has moved into garments that are comfy enough to lounge in but also look tailored enough to be worn outside of the house.
“You’re not just wearing your university hoodie that has some stains and maybe some bleach marks on it from 10 to 15 years ago when you graduated, but rather, people are investing in track suits that make them feel good at home but also look good to wear out,” Young said.
HOW OTHER HISTORIC MOMENTS CHANGED FASHION
Fashion historian and professor at Ryerson University Alison Matthews David said the COVID-19 pandemic will change the fashion landscape but it is “impossible to predict” how.
David told CTVNews.ca that while loungewear will most likely influence day wear after the pandemic, she said some people may capitalize on the occasion of being able to dress up again.
“I think it depends on your own philosophy. Some people really find that [clothing] is like an armour for them psychologically and physically they just love being dressed up. Whereas other people are much more comfort and will definitely want to keep wearing their athleisure to the office. It depends on how you feel about your wardrobe in general but hopefully it will be a little more flexible,” David said in a telephone interview on Thursday.
David added that the post-pandemic fashion landscape may include a renewed interest in clothing. This concept has been seen before following other major global events including the Great Depression, the Second World War and the 1918 Spanish influenza.
“During the Second World War, because clothing was rationed, and certainly a lot of things like wool or silk were needed for uniforms and for the war effort, people got very creative essentially with what they wore,” David said. “A lot of women still did home sewing and so there were lots of patterns and advice on how to turn one thing into another.”
David said women used feed sacks and flour bags, old parachutes and worn-out military coats to make dresses and other clothing because of the lack of materials. After the war ended along with years of uniforms, sartorial restrictions and shortages, Christian Dior’s very first collection called the “New Look” emerged and revived an interest in elegant shapes and femininity.
“Dior’s ‘New Look’ was kind of a way for people to react against all of the austerity during war time, but of course not everyone could afford that fabric, and that was actually a silhouette that was coming into style before the war. It just got kind of interrupted,” David said.
Following the Great Depression, David said women recycled and re-wore the previous year’s garments because they had limited income and those who did flaunt their wealth were frowned upon.
She added that this phenomenon also happened following the 2008 recession with wardrobes becoming generally more casual and women doing away with fur and ornate detailing until recent years.
This may also be seen post COVID-19, which David said will actually be “great for sustainability” in the fashion industry.
“In the past people, and women in particular, were told ‘This is the silhouette you’re going to wear, this is in fashion and you need to conform to it,’ whereas now in the world we live in… we recycle trends and we’re much more flexible with what we can wear. It wont matter I don’t think as much to be on trend after this,” David said.
MASKS TO MOVE BEYOND PROTECTIVE GEAR
When fashion changes following major events, there is usually a defining garment or two that visually symbolize the fashion of the time.
For example, at the end of the Victorian era doctors started discouraging women from wearing long skirts and corsets for fear these garments could hold germs associated with tuberculosis.
Elsaesser said COVID-19’s defining garment is the face mask. Similar to the 1918 Spanish influenza, surgical masks became staple items worn at all times both indoors and outdoors due to their essential protection. But Elsaesser predicts masks will be here to stay after the pandemic.
“I think masks will continue to be worn for some time, even after it is essential. I’m already seeing people using masks as a way to continue to express their personal style, so I think it will become more of a fashion piece eventually, such as matching masks to your outfit, or masks matching accessories,” Elsaesser said.
Elsaesser said maks were not widely worn before the pandemic began and were rarely spotted in North American. Now, they are quickly becoming a part of everyday life.
According to data from researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., 58 per cent of Canadians were already using masks before the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC ) made its official recommendation on Wednesday to wear them in public when maintaining a 2-metre distance is impossible.
“I never thought that I’d have a brand new best seller that was mask, but that’s now my reality as a designer,” Elsaesser said.
SHOPPING FOR SPECIFIC GARMENTS
Young said shopping local will also become a greater focus in fashion post pandemic.
“Since the pandemic has hit, a lot of consumers have changed where they shop and have had to pay more attention to not only the companies that they’re buying from but where those companies produce so there has been a huge focus on whether it’s Canadian made clothing,” Young said.
Young added that consumers are also looking for clothing that can be worn multiple times and used for various outfits not just out of comfort but also out of financial means.
“[Consumers] are buying with a focus on the use of the product so that even goes into clothing of how to use all of this, how many wears like a bit how does it make me feel,” Young said.
Elsasser said that the economic uncertainty may also bring about more DIY clothing projects. David said she is already seeing a people on social media take up tie dying their loungewear.
“We’re seeing a lot of people sharing how they’re altering and creating their own clothes and masks at home, and this has really been a dying art for some time. I think people will want to continue to have agency and fun with their wardrobe and proudly sport DIY more often,” Elsasser said.
While there will still be moments of dressing up, Young said people will be more thoughtful with what they choose to wear after the pandemic.
“After this, a lot of consumers will be looking for really special clothes that are those dress up pieces, and they will be wearing them more. When we’re able to attend weddings, there won’t be this fear of, ‘I already wore this dress to another wedding so I can’t wear it to this one’,” Young said.
“We will be giving our clothes more life, more value and more appreciation by wearing them in thoughtful moments and thoughtful events versus just feeling the need to buy something new to go out and look good.”