Let us not deny it: fashion as we know it is dying, as it should be.
As of September, independent fashion businesses were predicted to decrease by 35%, and 50% of Italian fashion companies were enduring enough financial stress to be at risk for complete shutdown. The fashion industry cannot survive much longer as it currently stands. Why is this the case?
Like many industries, the fashion industry has metamorphosed into a profit-first model. And, given the economic pressures of the coronavirus pandemic on the general populace, there is no incentive to purchase more clothing, much less designer clothing, and the whole apparatus is falling apart. This is not simply a matter of financial hardship, but a multi-faceted issue. The fashion industry is, in a word, poisoned.
Acclaimed American fashion designer Marc Jacobs admitted in a recent interview that the current state of the fashion industry was stifling free creative expression and risk-taking due to its privileging of mass production.
“We’ve done everything to excess [so] that there is no consumer for all of it, and everybody is exhausted by it. It’s all become a chore that’s just a waste of time and energy, and money and materials. I just think that the whole waste is taking the luxury out of fashion, as well as the creativity out of it, because when you’re on such a tight calendar and you’re just told to ‘produce, produce, produce.’”
Fast-fashion is meant for consumption in excess, a fact made all the more damning when noted alongside the proliferation of labor abuse in the industry. The U.S Department of Labor has found that 85% of garment factories in Los Angeles commit wage violations. Bangladesh’s 2013 Rana Plaza factory explosion killed 1,100 people, injuring another 2,500, and this is only one of many examples of dangerous working environments. In terms of environmental impact, 85% of the United States’s textile waste goes to landfills.
Simply put, the current state of the fashion industry is directly harming human lives. It is this focus on excess, this preoccupation with profit, that has perpetuated so much harm.
In Ways of Seeing, art critic John Berger claims, referring to the image of art itself, that “the uniqueness of the original now lies in it being the original of a reproduction. It is no longer what its image shows that strikes one as unique; its first meaning is no longer to be found in what it says, but in what it is.” That is to say, the original is no longer special because of any quality other than that of it being the first. Comparatively, the original statement of the piece has been replicated to be mass consumed.
The current state of commodification and branding of the fashion industry has replicated this parabole. Major brands like Gucci, Comme Des Garcons, Louis Vuitton, etc. are recognizable by their gaudy and extravagant labels — whether with their name or simply a stark red heart with eyes. A basic shirt can be priced over $100.
We know, of course, that presentation is power, it generates status. The fashion elite of the world co-opt this to not only sell their clothing, but to sell a projection of power. When someone wears a plain black t-shirt with nothing else but “GUCCI” in big block letters across their chest, is it really the aesthetic and statement of the article of clothing they were drawn to, or the projection of status? Are we buying clothes, or are we buying brands? What type of aesthetic are we purchasing — opulence, or the performance of opulence?
The great American philosopher and writer Susan Sontag notes in The Aesthetics of Silence that “it is in the nature of all spiritual projects to tend to consume themselves — exhausting their own sense, the very meaning of the terms in which they are couched. (Which is why “spirituality” must be continually reinvented.)”
The spirit of fashion has cannibalized itself, leaving us with an industry that is killing the planet, violating human rights, and privileges vapid accumulation of capital over real creative risk. Every purchase one makes is tied to a string of misfortunes afflicted onto another.
Of course, this is not an indictment of any one specific designer, but an indictment of the industry itself. There are plenty of designers and fashion houses committed to equity and sustainability, as well as a commitment to creativity and art. As a holistic organism, though, the industry is at a critical moment, one in desperate need of redefining.
And we can see this decline already, from elaborate shows of wealth to the closing of retail shopping malls, which leave the empty corpse of what was once a thriving hub of fashion consumption. Online video essayist Natalie Wynn argues that “There is a new aesthetic sensibility emerging….a gothic aesthetic for the 21st century — [a] decaying opulence that is the carcass of 20th century consumerism.”
But this does not mean there is nowhere to go from here. Instead, both the fashion industry and lovers of fashion are being presented with an opportune chance to direct its future. We can make something out of this detritus.
So, where should we go from here?
Above all, the industry must reckon with its past mistakes and move toward equitable production. It is paramount to pay laborers fair wages, provide safe working environments, rectify systemic racism, and limit the waste of textile factories through recycling and upcycling. Only when the industry considers the rights of its workers will it be able to transcend into a new aesthetic domain.
Let us push the boundaries of what fashion can be. We should look to independent and up-and-coming designers to pave the way toward a new future, while also holding major fashion brands accountable. Let us encourage artistic risk and innovation, combining opulent aesthetic (or lack thereof) with functionality. And, above all, let us embrace a new spirit of fashion, a spirit that respects and honors both those who make our clothing and those who wear it.
Let us leave what is dead, dead.
Ahmed, Osman. “What Will the Fashion Industry Look like Post-Covid 19.” I-d, 25 Sept. 2020, i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/z3eaz4/what-will-the-fashion-industry-look-like-post-covid-19.
Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” Living with Contradictions, 2018, pp. 189–198., doi:10.4324/9780429499142-27.
Hobbs, Julia. “Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs and Stella McCartney on Hope, Creativity and the Future of Fashion.” Vogue, 18 Apr. 2020, http://www.vogue.com/article/15-memorable-moments-vogue-global-conversations-anna-wintour.
Meagher, Syama. “The Not-So-Hidden Ethical Cost Of Fast Fashion: Sneaky Sweatshops In Our Own Backyard.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 6 Apr. 2020, http://www.forbes.com/sites/syamameagher/2020/02/05/the-not-so-hidden-ethical-cost-of-fast-fashion-sneaky-sweatshops-in-our-own-backyard/.
Schlossberg, Tatiana. “How Fast Fashion Is Destroying the Planet.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Sept. 2019, http://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/03/books/review/how-fast-fashion-is-destroying-the-planet.html.
Sontag, Susan. Essays of the 1960s & 70s. The Library of America, 2013.
Wynn, Natalie, director. Opulence. Youtube, 2019.
This time around, I wanted to write a short reflection on beauty by examining beauty as personified by a fashion icon — and one of my personal role models — Audrey Hepburn.
I love all things film-related, and I wouldn’t be able to really call myself a movie buff without understanding Miss Hepburn’s influence on the big screen. The first movie that I watched in which she had a starring role was Roman Holiday. I remember as I watched the movie that I was absolutely mesmerized by her. Her acting was phenomenal, and the grace and poise by which she carried herself were extraordinary. On top of that, the costume design in the film is unforgettable. Hepburn’s when-in-Rome ensemble, complete with a white shirt, scarf, and circle skirt, is quite arguably one of the most memorable outfits in cinematic history.
Hepburn was stunning both on and off the screen. Her natural beauty and impeccable taste garnered her attention from moviegoers and the fashion world alike, leading to her status as one of the most prominent cultural icons of the 20th century.
And while she was undoubtedly physically beautiful, there was something about her beauty that could not be explained purely in physical terms. An invisible aura surrounded her that made you really say, “Wow,” when she graced the screen. It was in part the way she spoke with eloquence. It was also the way she stood and walked with ease and confidence. There were so many facets to the marvelous jewel that was her character.
Hepburn consistently emphasized the importance of inner beauty at all stages of life. Commenting on the relationship between age and beauty, she claimed, “And the beauty of a woman, with passing years only grows!” Indeed, she aged gracefully, growing with dignity, generosity, and compassion as she became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador towards the end of her life.
To close, I’d like to share a remark on beauty by American humorist Sam Levenson that Hepburn loved to recite:
“For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run their fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.
People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.
As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others.”
Now go out and live your most beautiful lives you beautiful people. As always, much love and many blessings to you all.
Cloth mask, Doc mask, Red mask, Blue mask. Living in a post-pandemic world would be much simpler if we were in a Dr. Seuss book. Though that is not our reality, wearing a mask is. They serve as our shields: personal protection from the plague that has put most aspects of society on “pause”. But, we remember a world without masks right? When the pandemic is eventually over, will masks be just as obsolete as they were before? I think otherwise and my analysis of the adaptation of accessories from function to fashion will show you exactly why I believe that masks will be retained as an item of fashion in the years to come.
Already, masks are becoming a fashion statement. Many clothing companies are capitalizing on the opportunity to brand the public with their logos, from Off-white to Louis Vuitton. Even independent creators on Etsy are repurposing materials from popular brands like Gucci and turning them into masks. If high-end fashion isn’t your thing, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials for if you want to support your favorite football team or match your mask color to your outfit. Masks have changed from a necessity into a fashionable accessory, and this is not the first time this has happened.
Before we look at examples of functional things becoming accessories, what exactly are accessories? Though it isn’t spelt the same way, I like to think of accessories in context of a word similar to it: “excess” as in extra or additional. Fashion accessories are additional items, secondary to the wearer’s outfit, that amplify and complement the look. Since they are secondary, accessories are loosely classified and aren’t really a piece of clothing in their own rights. With that being said, could it expand to encompass face masks?
Many times has fashion turned a necessity into an accessory. Take belts and jewelry for example. They both are worn around parts of our bodies, but function in different ways. A belt typically holds up the wearer’s pants, but what does jewelry hold up? Our social status? Beyond aesthetic or tradition, there is no true functionality or utility in wearing jewelry yet we do so for the sake of fashion. The same can be said for belts worn improperly. Back when sagging your pants was a trend, some individuals would still wear a belt so their bottoms didn’t fall entirely past their butt, but those belts were definitely not being completely useful. This is where fashion can sometimes overcome function. Did you ever know someone who wore glasses that didn’t have a prescription? Ever wear a snapback backwards and end up with sun in your eyes and a burnt forehead? How about buying a nice pair of Nikes or Adidas with no intent of using them for fitness and athletics? The loss-of-function effect of fashion accessories is an ever-present trend that could include face masks in the near future.
In light of many accessories’ devolution into merely aesthetic detail, we should caution against this consequence for face masks, in particular in the midst of a global pandemic. A few months ago, the internet was raving over how beautiful these specific masks on Etsy were: the problem was that they were lace. The sheer fabric of black lace, though beautiful and breathable, would do anything but protect us against the spread of germs. Such an example of prioritizing fashionable appeal over functional advantages, perfectly demonstrates what face masks should not become in the realm of fashion. This, however, does not mean that there isn’t any room for masks to be fashionable or immortalized as accessories. Many East Asian countries had already adopted face masks as socially acceptable accessories prior to 2020. Because they are worn by the general public mostly as a courtesy if you have a cold, or because of air quality, wearing a face mask is as normal as wearing a belt or carrying a purse. Hopefully when quarantine protocols are over and the pandemic is behind us, it’ll be acceptable to wear a face mask to conceal my makeupless appearance, or simply because I want to coordinate it with whatever hat or bag I decide to accessorize with that day.
Photo: Justin French
In a matter of minutes after the restock, the signature Telfar bags—embossed with the “TC” label—were sold out once again. The Telfar bags are comprised of 100% vegan leather, come in different sizes, ranging from small to large, as well as various colors; additionally, the long straps and handles allow the bag to be versatile and functional for everyday use. Celebrities–Bella Hadid, Solange, Selena Gomez, Dua Lipa, A$AP Ferg and even AOC— have been spotted carrying the Telfar bags, also known as the “Bushwick Birkin.”
Although the bags have been embraced by top celebrities, Telfar Clemens, the founder of Telfar, envisions his bags carried by everyone and not just prominent figures, as embodied by their slogan “Not for You—For Everyone”. Telfar Clemens, who was born to Liberian parents in Queens, started his label in 2005. In an interview with The Cut, Clemens described his brand as “genderless, democratic, and transformative.” His vision for his brand was to make high fashion accessible and inclusive and he has been doing just that. When the Telfar bags continued to sell out within minutes of each restock, there were some concerns that bots and people were buying the bags to resell them at a higher price. The cost of Telfar bags are intentionally set to be affordable, for a high end brand, with bags retailing from $150 to $257. However, resale sites were listing Telfar bags for up to $700. In an effort to live out the brand’s motto, Telfar announced a “Bag Security Program”, a 24 hour online special starting on August 19th where people could pre-order any bag with guaranteed delivery between December 15 and January 15, 2021.
The “Bag Security Program” is a unique decision for a luxury brand. Telfar’s commitment to accessibility can be seen at odds with the general strategies utilized by luxury brands. Luca Solca, Head of Luxury Goods Research at Bernstein, stated that “luxury goods resolve people’s insecurities about who they are and their place in society… Luxury products help to set us apart from the crowd and make us special in our eyes and in the eyes of our peers.” The description of the impact of luxury products Is fundamentally different to Clemens’ vision of making Telfar a way to connect rather than alienate. Solca also explains how luxury brands advertise the idea of “exclusivity” while selling millions of products. In comparison, Telfar goes against the idea of exclusivity as evident from the slogan, “Not for You—For Everyone”.
As for the specific strategies utilized by luxury brands, three common strategies are price discipline, volume restraint and “exponential price- quality trade-off”. The price discipline strategy revolves around the notion that luxury brands convince consumers that goods are “precious” but not expensive. Generally, price and value are not the same, especially since gross margin can be “close to 90 percent.” The rationale behind this strategy is that if the brand never offers a discount, then consumers do not recognize the difference between price and value. If a brand offers discounts then consumers will recognize that when products are full price, they are overpaying. Consequently, most luxury brands never go on sale. In comparison, Telfar offers affordable pricing for a luxury brand, so consumers are not purchasing items at an exorbitant price.
The volume restraint strategy revolves around the limited edition tactic where brands purposely sell “lower volumes” of their products. The purpose of this tactic is to push the narrative that luxury brands are exclusive, so only a select number of consumers can have access to such luxury goods. Consequently, this can result in products being resold at higher prices which makes products even more exclusive and unattainable. Telfar specifically denounced this tactic and instead implemented the “Bag Security Program” to increase access to the Telfar bags. Although traditionally luxury brands are worried about oversaturation, this is not a concern for Clemens who values making luxury products accessible.
The “exponential price-quality trade off” strategy is based upon providing a better quality product but at an exponentially higher price. Therefore, consumers are more likely to justify spending unreasonable amounts of money on a “better quality” product even if the product quality is not significantly better. Again, this strategy revolves around increasing profits by making products more expensive and exclusive. Clemens focuses on providing quality items to consumers without charging exorbitant amounts for Telfar bags.
The differences between the strategic tactics used generally by luxury brands and Telfar represents how Telfar is revolutionizing what it means to be a luxury brand. Clemens has been making notable strides to make Telfar accessible, affordable, and inclusive. Telfar’s strategy has also been beneficial from an economic viewpoint. During the 24 hour “Bag Security Program” window, “the label says it generated 10 times the sales it has in the entirety of 2019.” Furthermore, Telfar is expected to “generate a comfortable eight figures in revenue this year.”
After the success of the “Bag Security Program”, Telfar has already moved forward with expanding their product selection by releasing a line of luxury durags. In a recent interview, Clemens stated that “we set out to make a durag that is meant to be seen. This durag is meant to be a kind of luxury, and our goal, as always, is even more accessibility and ubiquity.” The release of luxury durags is especially significant considering how Black people are discriminated against for wearing a durag. Telfar has truly redefined what it means to be a luxury brand by taking pride in inclusivity while denouncing exclusivity. From the “Bag Security Program” to the release of luxury durags, it is clear that Telfar is not interested in following any set of “conventional” rules.
The Rise of Thrifting as a Trend
In recent years, we’ve noticed a trend away from fast fashion, toward sustainability. One alternative to the often-pricey sustainable brands that have cropped up all over the Internet is thrift shopping. A cursory search of “Thrift Shopping” and related terms on YouTube yields thousands of results, ranging from hauls to how-to videos on “upcycling,” a.k.a. “creative reuse.” Thrift shopping has been a great way for eco-conscious and fashionable people — and everyone in between — to acquire quality clothing for cheaper prices. Thrift shopping content is trending not only on YouTube, but also on other platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, Tumblr, and Pinterest. This has led to an increased social interest in thrift shopping as a hobby, not just as a financial necessity. Just as eco-consciousness and sustainability have become trends, thrift shopping has become a trend.
Although there are many positives that have come with this trend — from a greater social awareness of sustainability and environmental issues to an increase in sustainable markets — it’s also given rise to a few issues. One of the biggest problems with this trend, and the one I’ll elaborate on a bit more in this article, is gentrification and everything it entails.
The Increasing Inaccessibility of Thrifted and Secondhand Clothing
What is gentrification? The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition explains both what it is and how it occurs:
“The process whereby the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing, and attracting new businesses, typically displacing current inhabitants in the process.”
While gentrification typically occurs in relation to neighborhoods and physical locations, it can certainly happen with cultural phenomena, which is what’s happened with thrift shopping. But how did this happen? And what does that mean for those of us who want to be ethical and sustainable?
Thrift shopping has, for the most part, followed the basic path of most trends. Public sees, public likes, public consumes. The increased demand leads to an increase in prices. It’s how the market works.
Because it is now more conventional and convenient to thrift shop, the demand for thrift shops has increased. And because of the increased demand, prices continue to rise, while only the “trendy” or higher quality items sell. Reddit users on the “r/Do you guys feel that thrift stores are being gentrified” chain share their experiences of the gradual mark-up of items at thrift stores. One user, MaterialLimit, laments “when Goodwill’s prices were a couple bucks for some jeans and a dollar or two for a shirt,” because “Now it’s closer to $6-$8 for jeans and $3-$5 for shirts.” While this price increase may not seem like much when we consider the cost of the individual item, the difference can quickly add up. Before, five pairs of jeans would have cost about ten dollars; now, with the price increase, five pairs of jeans can add up to thirty dollars or more. The Berkeley Economic Review elaborates on this dilemma:
“The rising popularity of thrifting among more wealthy consumers as an alternative to buying from sustainable and ethical fashion brands reduces the already limited options available to low-income communities when it comes to clothing…This means there are fewer quality items left on the thrift store shelves for those who truly have no other affordable options, say, for buying professional attire that could mean the difference between impressing or crashing at a job interview.”
Another issue that emerges with the rise in thrift shopping is related to reselling. I’m not talking about ThredUp or other online secondhand clothing retailers. Because of the increasing popularity of online shopping, it makes sense that thrift shopping would find a market online. But this is a completely different issue from the type of reselling we see on online platforms such as Depop and other curated shops, or “vintage shops.” On these platforms, curators buy clothing at secondhand stores like Goodwill or Salvation Army and resell them for a higher price. While there’s nothing bad with taking advantage of this new market, this can further contribute to the increasing inaccessibility of thrifted clothing. The result is that populations which rely heavily on the cheaper prices of secondhand clothing find it more and more difficult to afford them.
A Changing Social Perception of Poverty
Okay, so we understand the economic effects of gentrification. So what? We can just stop buying from resellers, or we can donate to impoverished populations, can’t we? Did I really need to write another article about this issue?
The answer is YES!
I’m sure you’ve heard about gentrification and all its negative financial impacts. But have you stopped to consider the social implications of gentrification? Especially as it relates to thrifting?
About ten years back, before thrift shopping was a trend, it was associated with poverty and uncleanliness. It was all the rage to try and look like all your clothes were brand new. Obviously, with the rising social awareness of environmental issues and the popularity of sustainable fashion options, thrift shopping has become a trend. And, as a result, how we as a society view thrift shopping has changed drastically. It’s no longer a taboo associated with poverty and uncleanliness.
Of course, it’s a good thing that we’ve stopped shaming people for wearing secondhand clothes. However, this is not because we as a society are becoming nicer. It’s because we’re participating in class appropriation. That is, we are adopting elements of lower-class culture into our middle- and upper-class culture, while ignoring the social and political implications of that appropriation.
Whether or not we want to acknowledge it, our actions have direct social implications. Rika from Couturesque discusses the class appropriation associated with fashion in general:
“In other words, elitism, with a few drops of creativity, and the right kind of popularity, means that a wealthy and successful person wearing a DHL t-shirt is considered more fashionable than the DHL employee wearing his or her regular work attire. In many cases, the only thing creative about pieces like this is the price tag and the high-fashion apparatus that supports it; if it weren’t for these two things, the trend would still belong to those who had it first. Instead, those who can afford these ‘new’ pieces don their badge of “authenticity,” which ironically is anything but authentic, considering that those who wear the same t-shirt for a living probably couldn’t afford to buy the trendy version.”
This, along with the “deconstruct and reconstruct” concepts of haute couture, relates to the rise of thrift shopping as a trend.
What happens when the DHL t-shirt worn by the wealthy person is considered more fashionable than the DHL t-shirt worn by an employee? In this act of class appropriation, we see the beginnings of the erasure of poverty. Of course, I’m not saying that we want to be able to easily identify someone’s socio-economic standing, but this trend almost implicitly makes poverty fashionable. While we might think that thrift shopping signals a shift away from poverty shaming, what actually happens is that poverty shaming still exists, just in a less overt — and, as a result, more difficult to identify — sense.
What We Can Do
So what does this mean for us as middle-class consumers? Does this mean we should stop thrift shopping altogether? Is there a way to be ethical and eco-conscious and sustainable and shop secondhand? In my search for the right answer, I looked high and low, digging through online articles the way most of us dig through clearance bins at our local thrift store. Unfortunately, most articles don’t offer a practical solution, or, if they do, the conversation is always focused on the individual practices we can adopt.
What these articles often forget is that we are operating within a broken system. Sure, we can effect minor change by showing companies that we prefer sustainable and ethically-produced products, but that’s kind of about it. It’s capitalism we’re talking about.
So, is there anything we can do? Yes! While classism is interconnected with the contemporary discourse surrounding sustainability and ethics — and while this web of issues can seem monolithic and impossible to tackle — there are things we can do.
What we can do is be conscious of our classist privilege when it comes to sustainability and secondhand clothing. Most of us can afford to buy from more expensive brands, and we need to recognize that our behavior as consumers directly influences vulnerable populations.
What we can do is remember that this is not just an individual issue. What I mean is that solving our personal consumer habits will not effect change on a large enough scale. The oil industry has been telling us to pay attention to our carbon footprints, as if it hasn’t been up to them to push for change on a greater scale.
What we can do is take political action. Aside from taking responsibility for the things that are up to us — supporting local businesses, repurposing our old clothes, not buying from unsustainable brands, etc. — we can also vote for environmentally-friendly policies and for politicians who will put our planet first. Hopefully, one day, we won’t even have to question the impact of buying a single t-shirt, because the system will be one that is inevitably ethical and sustainable, one that has sustainability woven into its very fabric.
2020 has been a whirlwind; along with Covid-19 came a general wave of uncertainty and unrest. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves, especially in quarantine. All of a sudden our busy lives had to be put on pause even if we didn’t want them to be. While quarantine was an intense and difficult time for most of us, it also provided us with the opportunity to do things we never thought we would have time for. Our search histories were overtaken with intricate DIY projects and the newest twists on basic recipes. We had time to spend on activities that we previously would have felt were not important enough or unnecessary. Most of us especially spent our time in one place: a place where we found solidarity in having the most niche characteristics –TikTok.
TikTok has gained immense popularity over the past few months, specifically because of quarantine. It provides a platform where people can post short videos ranging from 15 seconds to 1 minute to showcase anything they want: food videos, fashion videos, dances, singing, etc. In addition, anyone who has the app has a personalized “for you page” that compiles videos that the algorithm thinks the user would enjoy. TikTok currently has 500 million users, with a huge spike in this total users starting from March.
Trends are constantly changing, and TikTok has consistently presented its users with updated trends throughout quarantine. One of the most popular trends that flooded TikTok and other social media apps was tie dyeing and bleaching sweatsuits. This was especially popular because people were spending so much time at home in more comfortable outfits. By adding character to basic sweatsuits, it allowed people to feel less mundane about staying at home all day everyday. I even decided to bleach tie dye and crop one of my sweatshirts because I saw an easy tutorial on TikTok and I loved the result! It was great to spice up a basic black hoodie and now I wear it all the time, not to mention that the process itself was fun and gave me something to do on one of the more boring days of quarantine.
Bleaching and tie-dying is just one example of the recent upcycling trend. These hacks took over a lot of people’s “for you page” because it showed people how simple it is to recreate old clothes. One such technique was embroidering jeans. This became a way to add more personality to jeans with an easy and versatile technique. Many embroidered fun designs on the back pocket of their jeans or even wrote a personally important message. This is just one other example of how people can use clothing in order to express themselves, especially when most of us have the time to personalize our clothing to be meaningful to us.
Making reusable masks has been another Tik Tok trend that has allowed people to personalize what otherwise would be simply a common necessity. This was especially relevant in the beginning of quarantine at the time of the disposable mask shortage. People took this opportunity to make masks to represent their beliefs, whether that was a “Black Lives Matter” mask or a mask requesting people to vote. Reusable masks are also good for the environment, so the trend of making your own mask is a great way to demonstrate and put into practice your beliefs, while still looking cute and being safe!
Being stuck at home is one of the hardest things for most people. The lack of a familiar routine is scary and uncertain. It may sound silly or superficial to say that an app like TikTok helped form communities and gave people a creative outlet, but this holds true for my own life as well as for the lives of people I’ve witnessed. Tiktok has given so many people the opportunity to grow their creative talents or even find a new one; Tiktok has a place for everyone. In these uncertain times, it’s important to have a respite from all the craziness, regardless of if it is just an app on your phone. So, even if you might feel like you’re too old or cool to join this “Gen-Z” app, I would encourage you to get it — I guarantee that you will learn something.
2020. The Roaring Twenties. Turn of the decade.
Right from New Year’s Eve into the New Year, everyone was filled with excitement and anticipation of what was to come. It was a new beginning, a time where people could start over, filled with endless possibilities. Little could anyone predict what was to come.
When COVID-19 rocked the world, everyone was shocked into quarantine. Life was stopped for a short moment. People had a lot more time to reflect on things they wouldn’t normally think about. People used the extra time at home to maybe pick up a new hobby or catch up with family and friends. Basically, everyone was given a chance to do things that they wouldn’t normally have had time to do or said that they were too busy for, and in some ways that was comforting. Not only that, but also helped in making people more appreciative of the world and things that may have been taken for granted at a certain point, but that by itself is a whole other story.
Talking now with people about their days in quarantine, I find that sometimes they find themselves reminiscing back to that time or even “missing their quarantine selves.” Some even say that they came out more grounded in their individuality more than they were before. Now what does that really mean and how could that possibly tie into fashion?
Even before quarantine, fashion was a way that people connected. It was a way that people were able to show a part of them that was inside and communicate it with others in ways beyond words. And although how hard we try at the end of the day we are only human. How we appear to others is often the first thing that registers in a person’s mind, a powerful impression of unspoken words. Our bodies are blank canvases with endless possibilities. From the clothes we choose to wear in the morning, to the tattoos and piercings that cover our bodies, to the makeup or lack of makeup thereof, to the way we paint and treat our bodies, the color or way we choose to style are hair, all play into telling an even larger story to who we are, as a person and as an individual. Sometimes, that might not even be as clear to us and as we grow our look changes with us as we discover the person we want to be.
Before quarantine, it was easy. Getting ready was just part of our routine and was instinct to many. For example, some didn’t even think twice about setting up an appointment at the nail salon to change their acrylics into another new funky style they saw online. Or even, all of the hair and eyelash extension appointments, what happens when everything is closed and you no longer have access to these things?
But in quarantine, especially in the beginning, some people lost inspiration to do all of this. What was the point in getting up and putting on a whole face of makeup and changing through countless garments of wardrobe just to sit at a desk in your room? Especially accompanied with all of the other eye-opening events that rippled across the globe, it was hard to find true meaning behind anything. Out were the ties, dresses, and suits, and in were the sweatpants, sweatshirts, and pajama pants. After all, if your workday started at 9 AM, who would really want to wake up before dawn just to make yourself as presentable as possible when the only physical companion you’ll be talking to is your computer.
But as time went on, people got out of the slump and began to dress up for the day, even if they had no plans to go anywhere. According to an article written by Kalhan Rosenblatt on NBC News, Amanda Brennan said, “I felt like… I was losing this piece of myself and it was really hard to look in the mirror. I do my makeup to express my identity. If I could open up my soul to you, it would be hot pink glitter… it’s been a struggle.” People began to realize that fashion was more than just the clothes you chose to wear, but an example of how you see yourself and want others to see you. It is hard to even comprehend how individualistic fashion really is, and in some ways, it can be selfish, but not necessarily in a bad way. Especially during quarantine, through endless days with only their minds to give them comfort, some people had a lot more time to focus on themselves. Some who didn’t necessarily have time to put on a full face of makeup when trying to get a decent amount of sleep before a long day at work began to experiment. Others learned of the dangers of fast fashion and looked into new ways of upcycling or thrifting, which was even more intimate in terms of self-expression. Fashion is selfish in the way that we are who we are, and at the end of the day, nobody can tell you what to like or what to wear or how to present yourself. Ultimately that is up to you. The uniqueness in the art is a beauty in itself and is often one that goes unnoticed or unappreciated.
Furthermore, fashion helped to ground some others during these uncertain times. Many still woke up and did their morning routines, even if they had nowhere to go, for the sake of normalcy. Moods and productivity tend to rise when you feel prepared for the day and sometimes this just starts with putting on an outfit that you love. So, in a way, even though much of what we would consider “normal” was taken, getting dressed in the morning was not one of those things. The endless possibilities of the art in ourselves was not one of those things.
The only question left is what is going to happen post-quarantine? Personally, I think people are going to just have a deeper appreciation for themselves than they had before. And that will naturally come out in how they choose to present themselves as it has always been beautiful in that way. But even pre-quarantine, many were already rocking their looks in every possible way, so I think that after all of this it can only be even more so from here. Like how we grow as people and as a society, fashion will grow with us. While some may think that fashion should be the last thing on your mind in this new world, it has always been one of the most defining and integral ways that people connect with each other, in centuries of past lifetimes and the years to come.
The 1960s was a period of massive cultural upheaval, social progress, and artistic growth.
Increased resentment towards the entrenched systems of segregation and patriarchy contributed to a growing anti-establishment counterculture amongst the American youth. With the Second Wave of Feminism and the Civil Rights Movement well underway, cultural protest emerged as a main outlet of self-expression. Icons like Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and even Cheech & Chong ushered in a new era of art, music, and style that defined the new ideals of Free Love and Rock & Roll.
Despite this seemingly progressive wave of cultural and social advancement, the ‘60s were marked by significant turmoil and unrest. The Cuban Missile Crisis nearly escalated to full-scale nuclear war. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. stunned an American public that was still recovering from the violent public shooting of John F. Kennedy. Amidst protests against systemic racism and rampant gender discrimination, one issue seemed to unite the American public – the anti-Vietnam War movement.
At the time, the Vietnam War was the most unpopular conflict that the United States had ever engaged in. Support for the war was undermined by national TV coverage of its violent realities — millions of Americans tuned in every night to see thousands of young men engaged in cruel, unnerving jungle warfare.
Without a well-communicated purpose by the state for its relentless slaughter of Vietnamese and rising numbers of casualties, the American public questioned the motivation behind the conflict. The “random” draft through the Selective Service System was viewed as discriminatory towards low-income, low-education youths who could not pay their way out of the draft. The brutal reality of the conflict, in addition to its direct impact on the younger generation, resulted in heavy resistance from the counterculture movement.
Anti-war protests broke out across the nation, particularly in the stereotypically “hippie” areas of San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. The coy “Make Love, Not War” slogan quickly became the motto of the movement, and the Peace symbol became its logo. Brandishing signs and clothes adorned with both, thousands flocked to major cities to express their disgust with the conflict. Since many of the protestors were part of the hippie culture, their style and anti-mainstream fashion quickly became associated with the anti-war movement.
Centered around the rejection of contemporary social norms, the hippies were characterized by their Western adaptations of East Asian spiritual concepts, sexual freedom, and recreational drug use. The suits and skirts of the ‘50s were abandoned in favor of an unspoken dress code — bright, psychedelic colors and a loose, Bohemian style. Natural fabrics like batik were combined with paisley patterns and flowers. Bell-bottom jeans and tie-dye emerged, alongside medallion necklaces and other bold accessories.
The tighter, shorter female silhouette of the ‘60s, defined by the new trend of the miniskirt, was rejected in favor of maxi dresses, A-line skirts, wide-leg beach pants, and thrifted modest, 20th-century dresses. Natural faces were preferred in favor of makeup, and long, unstyled hair became the norm. Men’s clothing tended towards patterned pants and vibrant colors, frequently paired with t-shirts and turtlenecks. The influence of Eastern fashion was also apparent, as evidenced by tunic shirts, vests, sandals, and slippers. Beaded necklaces, headbands, and bracelets were popular accessories as well. More than anything else, both men and women’s fashion was predicated on the idea of “anything goes”, as long as it wasn’t the societal norm. For some, this even meant no clothes at all. As protests continued, this free, loose style of the counterculture hippies became deeply intertwined with the anti-war movement.
Another one of the many universal clothing symbols that became closely associated with the anti-war movement was the black armband, which became a national icon during the Supreme Court Tinker vs. Des Moines case. In 1965, five students decided to wear black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War – they were ordered to remove them, which they refused, resulting in suspension. The Supreme Court ruled this to be a violation of the children’s’ First Amendment Rights, setting a permanent precedent for the freedom to express political views through clothing.
The association of clothing with political movements is particularly applicable today, as the rise of modern print has allowed for clearer expression — Black Lives Matter clothing, MAGA hats, and the Proud Boys polo shirts stand out as contemporary examples. This modern method of expression is certainly much more direct than the associative outcome of hippie fashion becoming synonymous with the anti-war movement, but the Vietnam protests still serve as an interesting, comparable precedent. The Tinker vs. Des Moines case and the rejection of social norms by hippies set the foundation for modern political expression through clothing, which has become a pervasive enabler of individuality and free speech.
The year is 2020. As one may inevitably know, the COVID-19 Pandemic has taken the world by storm and has affected everyone alike. From lockdowns, to curfews, to quarantines, to travel bans, to isolation, to contact-tracing; many collective measures have been taken, some earlier than others, to further prevent the disease at the time of this article. Individual measures include social distancing, hand-washing, limiting the number of people in one place, and — memorably — wearing facial coverings. Facial coverings have evolved from the thin, nurse-scrubs-blue, stereotypical mask and manifested many forms, some safer than others (Fischer et al. 2020), such as cotton masks and bandanas, to name a few. Like any other textile, creative new forms and designs are now seen when one enters a supermarket. In fact, it’s almost as if the original blue masks are seen as boring, outside of a medical setting. Personally, a simple black cotton mask is my go-to. Similarly, in the influential world of celebrities and glamor, face masks have made their mark and are present in everything pop. From social media, to live performances, to athletic tournaments, face masks are not only an essential but an easy form of creating statements in the ever-evolving pandemic state of the world.
On August 8, 2020, Bella Hadid tagged her Instagram post with #WEARAMASK. She is seen standing in front of uncovered police officers in an all-black outfit with a complimentary black mask. Many celebrities have used their social media platforms to influence and remind their viewers and fans to wear some form of facial covering as the world continues to face the pandemic. In a time of mass protests demanding for peace and abolition of an oppressive police force, it takes everyone to play their part to minimize the effects of the pandemic, even if some aren’t exactly getting the memo. Among those posting is Beanie Feldstein, known for portraying Julie in Lady Bird, wearing a blue plaid mask and complimentary eyeshadow in a selfie on Instagram. In her caption she denotes “WEAR. A. MASK. It’s not political, it’s lifesaving. […] It’s being a thoughtful member of society. […] Protect yourself, protect others. #wearadamnmask” Not only did she remind her audience of how the political counter-argument against mask has no valid support, but also reminded them that wearing a mask is simply an act of decency in a time of chaotic adversity. Some may argue that the hashtag is a bit vulgar but the pandemic is unforgiving and relentless, so an explicit point is warranted. Feldstein isn’t alone either; Tracee Ellis Ross joined on the tag, challenging others, and even tagged #justiceforbreonnataylor in remembrance of her life taken unfairly, and now with no one being brought to justice. As influential celebrities can be, it still seems that both messages of wearing a mask and justice for Breonna Taylor have to be reminded every day.
In a more active setting, celebrities continue to use masks to make statements and send a message to their viewers. On August 30, 2020, the MTV Awards premiered live at 8:00PM with Keke Palmer as host, and performances, including The Weeknd, Black-Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga, and BTS, with stages physically spread throughout New York. As she stood on a building with the iconic Zoom rectangles of the audience surrounding her on building faces, Keke Palmer in her graceful white dress addressed the state of the world and inspired a little hope in the audience. However, though she was not wearing a mask, she was alone. An indisputable 6-feet from anyone. Yet, there is no memorable show without memorable performances. Among them is the 10 minute performance of Lady Gaga, featuring Ariana Grande, done completely in masks. In their coordinated purple outfits Lady Gaga is seen with a bulky mask with a LED screen displaying the frequency waves of her voice, and Ariana Grande to the left with a simple black mask. Her performance included a variety of dancers who moved actively while wearing masks. Not only do the masks add detail and compliment their outfits but they also convey a powerful message: masks are not encumbering. The performance and others, such as Doja Cat and her dancers, invalidates the common excuse for not wearing a mask due to physical hindrance. They are live visualizations of the fact that masks do not prevent anyone from doing anything (really, there’s literally a YouTube video of a guy running a mile in ten surgical ones). Furthermore, when Lady Gaga accepted her TriCon Award she was fitted in a spacious, shimmering dress with silver antlers elegantly hanging from her head, over her face covered in a bedazzled mask. She was alone, but her mask was still on and even stated “I might sound like a broken record, but wear a mask. It is a sign of respect.” One of the most distinguished artists of our time saying that is bound to touch someone somewhere and make them realize their simple duty.
Not fully convinced of the non-intrusive nature of masks? Look no further than sport tournaments themselves. Naomi Osaka has made it to televised, and in fact international, news not only because of her first win at the Tennis U.S. Open match but because of the masks she was wearing. Her collection consisted of seven black masks, each with a different name of a victim of police oppression. These include, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Elijah McClain, and Tamir Rice, to name a few. “I have seven, and it’s quite sad that seven masks isn’t enough for the amount of names”, she told abcNews. Naomi Osaka not only proves masks do not hinder function at all, but also demonstrates the impactful and influential power of a simple piece of cloth. As the United States continues to see protests against police oppression, Osaka’s simple masks empower the Black Lives Matter movement and brings the discussion into the athletic table. This was Osaka’s intention as she posted on social media, “ I don’t expect anything drastic to happen […] but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.” And a powerful step it was. Though there is much still left to do to dismantle current systematic racism, it is reassuring that the simple act of wearing a mask with a name sparked an important conversation and inspired those who view her as a role model.
The mask is currently an essential and functional accessory, and though everyone should be wearing one, it does not mean the individualized nature of fashion is lost. From the simple blue mask to a lit-up audio visualizer, the mask is not only useful but customizable and can be used to convey individual expression in many different ways, as shown by celebrities converting it into a trend and a fashion must. The posts, performances, statements, all revolve around a simple cloth over the face to prevent droplets from reaching others. In a time of questionable leadership practices the mask also symbolizes the stance against oppression and selfishness. Face masks are not luggage but rather a symbol of respect and decency. Though the smiles of strangers may be currently invisible, they are still there, 6-feet away, under their unique coverings and in the slight squint of their eyes.
ELLE, Team. “Celebrities Wearing Face Masks During The Coronavirus Pandemic.” ELLE, ELLE, 25 Sept. 2020, www.elle.com/uk/life-and-culture/g33230414/celebrities-face-masks-coronavirus/.
Fischer, Emma P., et al. “Low-Cost Measurement of Face Mask Efficacy for Filtering Expelled Droplets during Speech.” Science Advances, vol. 6, no. 36, 2020, doi:10.1126/sciadv.abd3083.
Hoyos, Joshua, and Sabina Ghebremedhin. “How Naomi Osaka Is Using Masks to Make Statement on One of World’s Biggest Tennis Stages.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 12 Sept. 2020, abcnews.go.com/Sports/naomi-osaka-masks-make-statement-worlds-biggest-tennis/story?id=72896685.
MTV Video Music Awards 2020, 2020, www.mtv.com/vma.