Fashion in the Times of COVID-19

As the global economy comes to terms with the corona virus outbreak, ‘social distancing’ has become a buzzword of these crazy times.

Everywhere whether in the media, neighbors, friends, strangers everyone is quick to prescribe social distancing – deliberately increasing the physical space between people – is the best way citizens can help to ‘flatten the curve’ and keep the virus away at arm’s length.

Fashion and social distancing are not the things one would like to connect in these trying times. But if we were to check on the histories associated with fashion in the earlier eras, one can see an interesting relationship between social distancing and fashion, whether it emerged due to some public health issues or was the result of societal norms. Fashion can play an important role in the project of social distancing, irrespective of the fact that the distancing created helps to halt the crazy speed of the pandemic.

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Clothing has long evolved as a functional mode to diminish close contact and prevent undue attention. In this current crisis, face masks have become a fashion accessory that signals, ‘keep safe distance please’. Just check Amazon to see the variety of face masks on offer with different cuts and styles and colors.

Looking back at history, keeping safe distance – especially between genders, races and classes – was a vital characteristic of social gatherings and public life. Social distancing in that era was more about etiquette and sophistication. Fashion was the perfect solution.

Women nonetheless continued to use fashion as a weapon against unwanted male attention

Face masks have been used both as a fashion statement or a symbol of anonymity by the ladies in Europe. History tells us about the popularization of face masks during the Spanish flu – very similar to the ones we are using today.

I am not sure whether the corona virus will lead to new fashion styles in the market. However we’ll see the advent and development of novel forms of protective outerwear, such as the ‘wearable shield’ developed by the Chinese. But for now, it seems most likely that we’ll all just continue wearing t-shirts, shorts, salwar suits, saris, etc.

Kakoli Biswas, Associate Professor, Textile & Knit Design, School of Fashion Design, Unitedworld Institute of Design (UID)

Disclaimer: The opinions / views expressed in this article are solely of the author in his / her individual capacity. They do not purport to reflect the opinions and/or views of the College and/or University or its members.

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