The other day I announced to no one in particular—actually, it was my husband, but he never listens to me and as proof, he didn’t even bat an eye—that I want a whole new wardrobe. Pandemic frump fashion has destroyed my self-image. For nearly five months now I’ve worn nothing but yoga pants, athletic shorts, loose tee shirts, and the same pair of sandals—day after day after friggin’ day. On top of that, we had to endure months of bad hair and nails. For the sake of propriety and under considerable duress, when I go to the grocery store I also wear a bra. And as comfortable as casual clothes are, I’m sick to death of wearing the same things for weeks and now months on end. I either need a new casual wardrobe or this pandemic must end.
Then, in the magazine section of a recent Sunday edition of The New York Times, an article titled Sweatpants Forever by Irina Aleksander dedicated multiple pages to the decline of the fashion industry and its accompanying bankruptcies. The causes aren’t entirely due to no one going out during COVID-19. The industry itself is also to blame for consumer apathy. For years now, they’ve been overloading us with poor quality, often unwearable, disposable fashion designed for leggy, anorexic, prepubescent teenagers. Instead of seasonal changes, we’re bombarded with new merchandise every week in chain stores and let’s face it, we can only absorb or afford so much. The green garbage bags we haul off to charity bins a couple of times a year are painful and costly reminders of our folly.
It’s no secret that the problem faced by the fashion industry now is one of historical proportions. Large and small fashion houses are closing their doors because they can no longer remain solvent while keeping up the mad pace of several showings a year. A couple of years ago I wrote a piece What Is Disposable Fashion on BoomerBroadcast about Burberry burning $37 million in new merchandise rather than dilute the cachet of their brand by selling it at sale prices to us, the great unwashed commoners. The obscenity of it all is horrifying. The blame is shared equally by us the consumer, the designers, manufacturers, and retailers. The high-end designers actually design for an extremely small, elite market. Manufacturers replicate the essence of the latest styles and flood the market with inexpensive reproductions and we consumers lay down our overloaded credit cards in order to remain decked out in the latest trendy looks.
If you’ve followed BoomerBroadcast during the seven years I’ve been blogging, you’ll recall I’ve railed against the fashion industry in multiple posts. I’ve condemned their lack of attention to the bodies and tastes of real women, particularly baby boomer women like us. I realize magazines like Vogue are designed to deliver fantasy, not real life, but they’ve positioned themselves to be totally irrelevant. I now get my fashion inspiration on the streets of the city or on fashion blogs by women like me. We’re disillusioned and fed up with most of what the fashion industry is offering.
Let’s hope there’ll be some changes made
One conclusion in the NYT article that made sense is that retailers will be more discriminating in what they buy from manufacturers to carry in their stores and their buying choices will address the growing consumer preference, even demand for comfort. Who can actually wear thousand dollar stilettos or afford to carry the latest “It” bag. The pandemic has slammed us with a reality check. We’ve learned that we actually like being comfortable and are now looking for clothing and fashions that deliver comfort as well as style. It is possible. Those brands that can provide both will win our shopping dollars.
According to Vanessa Craft, ELLE Canada’s savvy Editor-in-Chief in a recent piece in The Globe and Mail on the devolving face of fashion, “I think we also cannot keep having these elitist conversations that only cater to a certain audience and cut out a significant portion of the population who are just as deserving of the magic of fashion as anybody else.” Thank you, Vanessa. At least someone in the business recognizes there is a problem and suggests it’s fixable.
Missing fashion, for better or worse
Last fall I bought a lovely new sunflower yellow blazer at Talbots that’s still hanging in my front hall closet, never worn, nearly a year later. I have a collection of beautiful handbags stored in their dustbags because these days I only use my Roots cross-body messenger bag to visit Real Canadian SuperStore for groceries. Shoes? I’m embarrassed to tell you how many I own but they’re all in semi-retirement awaiting the summer of 2021 when perhaps they can walk out and rejoin society. I still subscribe to all my favourite fashion blogs and clip pictures from magazines when I spot a look I like, but it only serves to remind me that I’m in living in a fashion vacuum. My jewelry is tucked away, forgotten, and my makeup drawer is collecting dust.
A couple of weeks ago we went out to dinner with friends at a favourite Italian restaurant nearby. The restaurant owners had set up a white tent in their parking lot to permit physical distancing and all the waiters wore masks and rubber gloves. Life’s starting to look like a scene from a science fiction horror film. The menus were photocopied for single-use and were disposed of after we made our selections. The six of us were so thrilled though to finally be able to eat in a restaurant where a real waiter brought us food and wine that we were absolutely giddy. What a luxury. It was the first time I’d worn proper clothes, shoes, makeup, and jewelry in months. Then, we pulled our masks up and departed for home and a return to reality and banality.
Love it or leave it
The lockdown has forced most of us to reevaluate our lives and gain a better understanding of our wants versus needs. We’re enjoying seeing healthier bank accounts without all those stupid impulse purchases that cost us more than we realized. At the same time, we’re mourning all the cute outfits hanging in our closets that we never get to wear anymore. The only new item of clothing I may get to purchase this year is a winter parka since heading south will be out of the question. In the fall, my fashion choices will switch from yoga capris and shorts to long sweat pants and socks. Are you as excited as I am about the new season?
Being a ‘girl’ is fun. We like to wear makeup, get our nails done. We love totally impractical but gorgeous shoes—we enjoy being a girl. I should probably be using this isolation time to cull my closet of things I never wear, that no longer fit or no longer make me feel fabulous, but lethargy and indifference have crept in. Who cares? There’s no point in taking things to the charity bin as they’re not collecting and no one’s shopping in consignment stores these days. The entire world has come to a grinding halt. My closet has become museum space.
I know the economic, sociological, and health-related problems of the pandemic are far more serious than not being able to get dressed up to go out, but as human beings, getting dressed up is part of what makes us feel human. We’re not socializing; we’re not getting together for girls’ lunches; we’re not spending a lazy afternoon shopping for something to wear to an upcoming wedding. And we miss all those rituals of daily life.
In the meantime, I’ll keep following my favourite blogs, reading my magazines, and planning for the day when I can get all dickie-doo’d up and go out on the town again—as long as I’m home and in bed by ten o’clock. We still need our beauty sleep. Some things never change. If the New York Times is correct, fashion choices in the future are going to be “new and improved”. Maybe they’ll actually start designing for you and me, ‘the consumer’ and come up with fashion that truly addresses comfort and style, for real women’s bodies, that isn’t limited to sweats. What will you be shopping for in the future?
I bought a new dress and it’s going to change my life.
My annual bitchy critique of The September Issue of Vogue magazine.