We already know that the coronavirus outbreak is affecting the fashion and footwear industries in seismic ways. From supply chain halts in China and manufacturing woes in Italy to a steep drop in showroom visits and retail orders as fashion month drew to a close at Paris Fashion Week (just as the global outbreak was ramping up), the economic implications are just starting to reveal themselves.
But how will the pandemic, and its social consequences, affect what people wear?
Fashion might seem like the last thing we should be thinking about during a global health crisis. But looking at shifting attitudes and lifestyles in a fast-changing scenario could guide designers, brands and retailers to adjust their approaches for the rest of the year and help keep sales propped up. This will be necessary at a time when people are likely to curtail or dramatically shift their spending habits — and sourcing and manufacturing are likely to be lean.
At its core, fashion is incredibly emotional and in a real crisis, people mostly want to feel some comfort — a metaphorical security blanket but also, a physical one. Will cozy knitwear and those trending cashmere sets become an even bigger sell? Do robes and hoodies hold a renewed allure? Will retailers start selling out of slippers as everyone stays indoors and and there is no longer current use for a pair of stiletto pumps or platform sandals?
Fashion trends have started to swing from the streetwear and athleisure booms of the past few years to more professional ways of dress. The most recent runways, showing fall ’20 collections, were not full of designer sneakers and hoodies but instead suits, boots and a whole lot of leather outerwear. Most of that is not likely to resonate with a dramatic shift towards self-isolation, even for the most fashion forward.
While the idea of coziness was a predominant theme a few years ago, only a few designers highlighted knitwear in fall ’20 collections. At Paris Fashion Week, amidst growing concern that the coronavirus was following the fashion industry, Joseph Altuzarra combined elegant necklines and vintage ladylike silhouettes with sumptuous knits and fuzzy slippers. In the context of the unraveling crisis, his collection took on more significance.
On the footwear front, fall’s practical boot trend is perfectly timed. This will not be an era of sequins, silks and other frivolities. Rubber soles can be more easily wiped down and already-trending heavy lugs give off an apocalyptic vibe that might actually empower its wearers in its armor-like silhouette.
In real life, as people begin to navigate work-from-home strategies, including virtual meetings on FaceTime, Google Hangout and the like, perhaps the most important fashion question is what to wear from the waist up. To this, a portrait of Phoebe Philo comes to mind. In the shot, photographed by David Sims in 2010, the designer covers her mouth with a chunky turtleneck sweater. Cozy, practical, still professional, the trusty turtleneck is likely to hold court as one of the most ubiquitous items during this time. Worn Phoebe-style, its design also offers a sense of protection, even if only symbolic.
And though you won’t be able to see them on most FaceTime calls, it’s a good bet that the fur-lined sandal — another Philo signature — will also come creeping back to life. Because in these times, comfort as the ultimate luxury will take on a whole new meaning.