The first time I walked outside without a mask on, I felt exposed. Gone was the time when I could navigate the days just by training my eyes to show confidence and competence. Now anyone could have an insight into my real mood (mostly lousy). Or, worse, see written on my face the uncertainty felt at the prospect of joining the summer vibe in a post-pandemic world. After more than a year spent stifled in monotony, isolation, and restraint, we came up for air only to find out that not only our world has changed, but also we have changed – a lot and irreversibly. We speculate what post-pandemic society will look like and how different everything will be, from how we live and where we work, to how we relax, where we shop, and what we wear. Many questions with hardly any answers yet, as we see only very few signs that our relationship with the world is on the mend.
I started my research for this article feeling doubtful and disenchanted. Of course, I realized that the approach to fashion won’t be the same anymore, as the pandemic altered every way we engage with our clothing, from designing and styling to selling, buying, and wearing it. But what I missed most was the magic of why. I looked at the abundance of trends emerging from both the runways and our ever-shifting social media grid, and I pondered the summer street style of fashion lovers and regular people alike. Something rang false to me as I was trying to determine not what the new trends were, but whether they were important anymore, to whom, and why.
Take for instance the emphasis on comfort. People are mostly reaching for what is practical and comfortable right now, both physically and psychologically. The lack of social feedback during lockdowns shifted our focus from the aesthetic or status value of our wardrobe to how clothes make us feel, express various parts of our identity, mitigate our moods, evoke precious memories, and aid our general wellbeing. We’ll find it hard to relinquish the comfortable staples of our pandemic fashion style anytime soon, so – at least as long as our bodies still carry the extra-pounds gained while working from home – oversized garments, elevated loungewear, athleisure look, and even comfy footwear such as sneakers, slingbacks, espadrilles, loafers, or ballerina flats will continue to hold center stage.
The transition for more structured garments eventually happens, as things get back to normal and a renewed interest in clothing surfaces. We move towards breezy floral dresses, cut-outs and tie-dyes, cropped tops with bare midriffs, and straight-leg jeans – the ultimate comfortable classic and this summer’s number one style.
Already ruling the summer street style worldwide, the straight-leg silhouette has stood the test of time unabashed and continues to prove its undeniable versatility regardless of the season. Designed to sit high on hips and drop straight down to the hem, it works like a charm for any fashionista’s body shape, paired for warm weather with a simple tank and sneakers, or a strappy heel and a bra-like crop top. The best summertime feel comes from the light wash hue, but vintage-inspired, faded-wash black jeans and clean-white high-waist denim, worn with a simple cardigan and kitten heels, are also great options. As are the jeans with a special artsy finish, paired with a crop top or a bodysuit for flawless tuck.
Pandemic changed also the way we shop. What fashion psychologists name ‘revenge-buying’, i.e., shopping to make up for the lost time, is a form of liberation and exploring after being kept in check for over a year. We don’t want to give up the easiness of online shopping and turn this recent habit into a solid trait as we speak, yet we can’t forego our ingrained desire for social interaction either, so we continue to crave the immersive retail experience, social distancing be damned.
The store is therefore becoming a community hub, where we want not only to buy products but also to meet friends, share experiences, or engage face-to-face with stylists. However, picking up the retail practice from where we had to leave off doesn’t mean that we go straight back to our reckless pre-pandemic consumerism – not at all. We listen to the news coming from the runways worldwide, we stay tuned to the social media feeds as valid sources of inspiration, yet we free ourselves from the trap of retail therapy, look about to buy true value and classic, and let go of our old need for instant gratification. Analysts have a name for that as well – mindful shopping, but its forced flower-power juxtaposition kinda grates on my nerves. I’d rather appreciate this shift as proof of our flexibility and maturity when faced with the sartorial restrictions, material shortages, and endangered income generated by such a complex and humorless phenomenon like the pandemic.
No matter how much the runway looks are dissected down to the very last detail by fashion analysts, it’s the street style that speaks volumes about our reemerging fashion style, a global and debatable work in progress. We witnessed speechlessly how the pandemic disrupted street style to a complete standstill. Coming out of the pit is not easy. It takes creativity, inspiration, the right mindset, and a touch of grace. If we agree that fashion is always a mirror of what is going on in society, the summer street style of 2021 tells a story of refreshing survival power as much as one of confusion and PTSD. I see modest, comfy shoes mixed ingeniously with high-end pieces, posh print dresses, and flowing skirts, in a high and low witty blend of fashion and function. Style-continuity keeps things streamlined through a fun color, whimsy print, or artistic detail. Accessories (and I’m not talking only about masks, the visual fashion symbol of the time) are still the easiest way to add joy and oomph to a weary wardrobe. Globally, people reach for hats, scarves, handbags and jewelry, charms, and pendants that channel the 2000s, speaking to the pervasiveness of nostalgia dressing. I recognized with relief in the 2021 Resort styles more than a few classic lines, inherited elegance, and reinterpretations of all great decades’ staples and symbols.
Flipping through the street style pics taken all over the world at Resort fashion shows, or just randomly on the streets of New York, Paris, London, Milan, Taipei, or Tokyo, I see also plenty of people ready to show off, in eccentric outfits and peculiar looks, some of them trying way too hard to wow and overshadow the mundane. Many street-style looks are pointlessly shocking and, for lack of better words, downright ugly. You could ask what the Tokyo or Sydney street style has to do with you. In the laid-back la-la land where we enjoy the newly-recovered beach freedom without looking back once, the obvious answer seems to be, nothing.
But that’s not true. Because people’s street style of deliberate eccentricity and sought-after ugliness is not accidental. And it’s not what fashion philosophers profess as being praiseworthy, brave, and bold self-expression. It’s this approach that bothers me the most. For what I see in those pictures is not authenticity or even a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor. It’s desperation masked with bravado; it’s the narrative of having no idea how to move on and put behind us the terrible experience we barely survived. Analysts and psychologists often act like they understand; as they know something we don’t, about both fashion and life. But standing in your truth is hard. And it is everyone’s own battle to fight and win.
What if we stop pretending that we are oh, so inspired, so creative, and so sophisticated; that fashion, through our street style worldwide, reflects this driven post-pandemic society, our reinvented poise. Because it’s nothing like that. When we take a step back and look, really look, in the mirror, what we see in our eyes is bewilderment, is fear of the unknown. A great way out could be to pull that white sundress out of the closet, flaunt it like a peace flag, and surrender to the not knowing, ready to soak up as much of the summer ‘lightness of being’ as possible.
Truth is, the Emperor has no clothes. It’s up to us to admit that and decide calmly on ours.