In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, there was a proliferation of news articles about a sudden disappearance of the world’s trappings. Nightlife, tourists, and commutes had all but vanished, leaving urban soundscapes to chirping birds. But inevitably people across America and around the world became restless for life, returning to activities like putting on nice outfits, maybe even buying the occasional new one. What will fashion consumption look like after COVID-19?

This is a question with economic, environmental, cultural, and aesthetic implications. Isabel B. Slone, a culture journalist in Toronto, suggests that—while there’s a long history of implicating fashion and style among the social ills that a more evolved society would simply abandon—many people continue to find in them sources of personal expression and fulfillment. The negatives of the fashion industry remain glaring, including pressure on landfills; labor abuses, from textile factories to runways; racist and body-shaming advertising imagery; and the social pressure to overspend. But for Slone, as long as we have civilization, eliminating the inessential from human experience can only ever be a temporary, emergency measure. The question will always be how to reckon with it.


Phoebe Maltz Bovy: You’ve written, in Elle and elsewhere, about the way that for fashion enthusiasts, staying at home has meant a chance to experiment with outrageous outfits, rather than just wearing pajamas. Can you say more about that?

Isabel B. Slone: The pandemic has accelerated trends that were already happening. I would say it’s been going on for the past five years. Brands like Gucci and Balenciaga, they’re more responding to the conversation than creating it.

This has opened up the field to a far wider variety of styles. There’s no one single overarching style of pants that could be labeled “cool” the way skinny jeans started becoming cool circa 2005, replacing low-slung boot-cut flares as the pants that everybody was wearing. Instead of one silhouette coming in to overtake the skinny jeans, it’s slowly a number of different silhouettes that come in and people are wearing those in addition to the one previously popular silhouette. Because people are more tied to their homes, I think that it’s become more acceptable to wear whatever the hell you want.

Bovy: How do you see the approach to personal style of people interested in fashion having changed since the pandemic? What distinguishes the kind of experimental at-home look you’re describing, presented on Zoom or worn unseen, from what someone wore pre-pandemic to, say, a coffee shop?

Slone: If you’re interested in fashion and self-expression, maybe you went through a phase earlier last year wherein you kind of questioned your relationship with fashion, sort of gave up on it for a while. But I think if you’re actually somebody who enjoys the act of dressing up, you’ve probably come back to fashion and your sense of style is perhaps more refined and perhaps has taken a different direction but would not be significantly different to however you were dressing pre-pandemic.

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