Our collective experience during the pandemic bears consequential effects on consumerism. As notions of work attire have changed, the retail landscape has also transformed to meet the needs of the remote worker. With changing consumer habits, more and more clothing companies are adding casual apparel to their inventory and brands are designing for comfort and functionality. Consumers are prioritising comfort over style, forgoing buying trendy clothes for basic apparel in neutral colours and comfortable fabrics. In the aftermath of this pandemic, it’s likely that some people will reject the ultra-relaxed lockdown look for a more glamorous fashion look, but the shift toward comfort may still endure. In other words, Covid has upended fashion trends and changed our perception of what’s fashionably acceptable inside and outside of our homes.
The disruption of supply chains globally meant that designers had to step back production and resort to smaller collections to compensate. The apparel industry is undergoing a revolution where there have been rising consumer demands for more sustainable clothing and ethical practices. The pandemic has been a shining light on how fast fashion is killing the planet. It has been driving the spotlight on the need for the industry to do more to become environmentally compatible. The treatment of workers in manufacturing hubs in developing and third world countries during the global lockdown has been a stark reminder of the apathetic stance of fashion conglomerates towards their garment workers.
For years, labour rights groups have been calling for better working conditions and living wages for these workers, but their concerns have fallen on deaf ears and have not led to any significant transition or change. The tragic situation took a turn for worse when manufacturing mills were shut down in the midst of the raging pandemic. Most of these workers were unpaid for the consignments completed or in progress during the entire lockdown. Pressure from consumers and social media campaigning did lead to some brands acknowledging the lapse in payment, public apology, and an initiative to rectify the grave oversight, but others simply swept it under the rug. This disdainful attitude of the fashion industry towards their workers’ plight has impacted consumer perception negatively. Experts believe that post-pandemic more people will turn to their local artisans for their apparel needs. This is a part of a growing trend of supporting local businesses.
The reality is today’s consumers are buying fewer clothes and, more necessarily, they are choosing to buy locally. What is happening now is similar to the tangible change in fashion that ensued during the Great Depression and the two World Wars. The Great Depression saw people being creative to supplement their wardrobes. Both the clothing wearers and makers found ways to make do with what they could obtain. Cork was one of the only materials that weren’t rationed, so it was used to make high heels for women. There were some who were making their wedding dresses out of parachutes. When the war began and men were being deployed to serve in the military, women had to step up and take up jobs at factories and warehouses. At the time, fashion was more about being utilitarian. It was also a time where strict rationing led to skimpier apparels, fitted silhouettes, and shorter clothing, a move to save fabric and reduce waste. People were more focused on their clothing serving a purpose rather than just being visually appealing.
Traction of mindfulness and socially responsible fashion will result in a shift to made to order or demand-based fashion models. More designers are embracing seasonless collections to increase the longevity of clothes. The element of functionality will remain a critical requirement for consumers post covid. Growing eco-consciousness, especially among the youth, will spur simple, minimalistic, and versatile clothing from natural, environmentally friendly materials. In the shorter run, we expect protective coverings like face masks or ready to wear face coverings to be part of our normal routine. Brands like Yeezy and Marine Serre are already on the wagon of this progressive trend.
As fashion continues to become more abstract, nostalgic fashion is on the revival. The 70s, 80s, and 90s style are in vogue again. Recycled fashion trends from the past are making way into the future. Fashion connoisseurs are mixing old school pieces with modern elements to create timeless looks. Rather than buying new clothes or overhauling their entire closet, more people are buying are essential items that they can amalgamate with their existing wardrobe. While conscious consumption is on the rise, on the other end of the spectrum, people are indulging in ‘revenge spending”. We saw instances of revenge spending when China came out of lockdown. Luxury spending dipped significantly in the first half of 2020 but it saw an incredible uptick once retail stores opened up for business. A large portion of the population shopped rigorously- in fact, people were shopping more than usual once they came out of lockdown. The general sentiment among the masses was that of jubilation and they did so in the form of spending disposable income on luxury brands. Undoubtedly, couture and high-end luxury will always be relevant. However, the next phase of fashion’s evolution will really come down to our individual choices. There will people who would go all out once the pandemic ends while others will choose to step back from toxic consumerism.
Athleisure has gained monumental popularity during the pandemic. Post-confinement, consumers will continue to invest in athleisure and elevated loungewear- simply because they are comfortable and functional. The end of the pandemic will see people veer more toward minimalism. The process of reversing overconsumption involves getting rid of things, choosing what to keep, and sometimes even entails acquiring new possessions. In the long run, consumers will be more concerned about adding value to their wardrobe, choosing pieces of clothing that are classic, long-lasting, and have minimal impact on the environment. Fashion brands will have to reinvent themselves to catch up with consumers and their changing lifestyles.