Post-Covid, office clothes and other clothes are redesigned as we all try to remember how to dress

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All the outfits I’ve made look fake. I don’t have shoes that I like, no pants that flatter me. After a year of Zoom-ready sweatshirts and blouses, my closet before the pandemic looks like the wardrobe of a woman I’ve heard of but only vaguely remember. She was wearing tight pants! She loved the belts! She put her evening essentials in a bag too small to contain what she really needed!

As we come out of our year of isolation, it’s clear we’ve all been changed by the pandemic – and our clothes are another reminder of this unintentional and undeniable transformation. So far, dressing like me in January 2020 as I return to society in mid-2021 has made me feel like I’m putting on a costume. My old clothes seem too restrictive and too dull at the same time. Too bulky. Too embarrassing. Too much not me. I am different now; it makes sense that my clothes are too.

The way I feel is not unique; for the record, most of my friends have expressed a similar dilemma. Take a look on the internet and you will find countless strangers confused as to how to dress for their return to work in person (the consensus seems to be something a bit below business casual – a “jardigan” can -to be). Get out on the town, and the excitement is all over the place. Bright colors, flowers, prints and great silhouettes: after such a sad year, it seems everyone wants to dress happy, everyone wants to take up space, everyone wants to present themselves as themselves.

A model walks the runway in an Erik-Yvon design during Australian Fashion Week on June 1 in Sydney.Stefan Gosatti / Getty Images file

And the real selves seem to be the direction in which fashion is headed.

“Complying with dress style and beauty standards will be a choice rather than an expectation,” Jennifer Dasher, assistant professor of costume design at the University of Florida, said of post-pandemic fashion. “Self-expression, cultural expression and a continued desire to be comfortable will be essential.”

“I expect to see a lot of color,” agreed Gail Brassard, who has taught costume design at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Covid was a life changing event – like a war or an economic crash – that its effects will be profound on all visuals and especially in the arts.”

Brassard anticipates more “fantasy dressing”, “tall figures” and clothing with a “playful” quality. Judging by the exuberant shapes and vivid colors on the catwalks at Venice Fashion Week, they’re both right. In short: Fashion is changing at a rapid rate, and the new look will be a reaction to what we have just experienced collectively. People are happy to continue to feel comfortable in their clothes (at least I am) while not just sticking to sweats. Meanwhile, there is a palpable energy of optimism to be harnessed, and that too shines through in the clothes.

Throughout history, major world events – war, disease, depression, revolution – have had a direct impact on what we wear.

“Times of greater change in fashion are in sync with big changes in society,” Dasher noted.

Some of these moments are easy to pinpoint: the splendor of the Roaring Twenties after the end of World War I and the Spanish flu; women’s pants after WWII factory fashions.


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