Fashion During Times of Austerity

Written by The Heat Team

21 Dec 2020

During the early weeks of the pandemic, we kept ourselves busy by participating in viral quarantine trends — whether that may have been baking banana bread, learning TikTok dances, a brief stint of tie-dying various garments, or binge-watching Tiger King and speculating over who killed Carole Baskin's husband. And as is the case with most trends, many of those are said and done, but there are certain habits which have stuck with us throughout this unprecedented period. Mainly, the culture of mending, upcycling, and clearing out our closets have become common practise amongst many of us as a way of passing time, leading us to realise the importance of repurposing our belongings, buying less, and shopping more consciously. 

It draws parallels to the Second World War when the British Ministry of Information issued a ‘Make Do and Mend’ instruction pamphlet for remaking new clothes from worn pieces. In 1941, fabric supplies were rationed and civilian clothing production was reduced so that factory space and labour could be delegated to war production. Making clothes quickly became a popular alternative to buying ready-made garments, which was less expensive and required fewer clothing coupons. As a result, it motivated civilians to find creative ways to make and care for clothes, forging their own wartime style; old blankets and blackout curtains were transformed into dresses, and suits left behind by soldiers became skirts and jackets. Similarly, during the early weeks of the COVID-19, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged the public to make their own masks, using fabrics, bandanas, and scarves. Designers were also quick to participate in some professional DIY, responding by making their own designs, with many using bright and colourful upcycled fabrics that quickly infiltrated the runways.

History has shown us time and time again that fashion tends to flourish creatively during events of austerity, even alleviating difficult periods. Following the Great Depression, there was a freedom of style—despite the financial issues of the 1930s, people didn’t dress like it. Men sported fedoras and double-breasted overcoats while women wore fur and florals. After the Second World War, Christian Dior rose to fame by creating the 'New Look', ' (as coined by American Vogue), which revolutionised the way of dressing. Dior reinstated Paris as the city of fashion from the rubble of the battleground by introducing petticoats, small waists and voluminous skirts, creating a visual language so iconic that John Galliano revisited the collection again decades later during his tenure at the fashion house. When the recession hit at the end of the 1980s, the desire to wear excessive maximalism waned and gave way to deconstruction, birthing conceptual fashion. Japanese designers Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto rose to prominence by introducing an oversized, dark and distressed aesthetic which challenged the preconceived idea of status.

Despite COVID-19 hitting the fashion industry particularly hard, it did not hinder creativity. In fact, the fashion industry rallied together and contributed significantly during the challenging period. Leading fashion houses all over the world found creative ways to combat the adverse effects caused by COVID-19. Global luxury conglomerate LVMH halted their perfumery production to produce hand sanitizers for Parisian hospitals on the front line of the battle against coronavirus. Meanwhile, at the centre of the epidemic in Italy, Gucci and Prada provided hundreds of thousands of surgical masks and medical garments, during a time when Italian fabric mills were on hiatus. It all goes to show how fashion has never hesitated to step up to play honourable roles in times of crisis. Moreover, we’d go so far as to say that it has proven to be one of the most adaptable industries.

Fashion During Times of Austerity

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