Reviews | In bathrobes, staple fashion trends, we carry our collective angst

(Washington Post illustration; iStock)
(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

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Susanna Schrobsdorff writes the It’s not just you newsletter on Substack. Previously, she was editor-in-chief of Time magazine.

What we wear is never an accident, even if it looks like one. Clothing trends follow the political and social zeitgeist. They are often a barometer of our state of mind. And if that’s true, then it’s hard to look at what’s going on out there in the fashion world without wondering: Are you okay?

This year’s looks range from a survivalist vibe reminiscent of the final scenes of a “Mad Max” movie to what can only be called emotional support clothing – that is, pieces that seem to be made of marshmallows and the skins of a thousand stuffed animals. Society seems to have a fight-or-flight sartorial response to our collective angst.

The pandemic may be easing, but other existential stressors are accumulating at a breakneck pace. Droughts, hurricanes, soaring interest rates, political instability – it’s all looming. In September, a federal task force recommended anxiety screenings for American adults under 65 to address a “critical need” for mental health support.

No wonder fashion magazines are touting clothes that sound like therapy: “cocoon cardigans,” “soft-soled” slides, and this fall’s couture pick: coats that look like you’re wearing them. a belted duvet or maybe become your own bed, #robelife. Crocs is back with a line called Mellow Slide, perhaps for those who think their usual foam-resin shoes are stuck.

For anyone still trying hard, there’s the “dopaminergic band-aid,” or intentionally wearing mood-enhancing colors and shapes. Meanwhile, Brad Pitt has teamed up with a holistic healer on luxury cashmere “made for your well-being,” including $1,980 shirts with gemstone buttons that represent the seven chakras. The pair shared the brand’s unconventional origin story, which involves a dream of co-founder Sat Hari’s and Pitt saying he “wanted more green cashmere and softness” in his life. (Me too, Brad. Me too.)

On the other hand, there is a survivalist trend, or what one magazine called “dressing for the end of the world”. Think bomber jackets, cargo pants, parachute pants, utility suits and lug-soled boots – the kind with massive steps that let you climb up a mudslide. It’s reminiscent of 90s grunge, with the nihilism and alienation of that era. And it’s perfect for cowering behind barricades in a slow-paced civil war. (Just kidding. Sort of.)

Then there are the hundreds of “core aesthetics” that are popping up on TikTok in which followers dress according to a subculture identity, like clowncore (rainbow prints, facepaint), dragoncore (nature, mysticism), the “dark academia” (moody houndstooth), cottagecore (thick sweaters), various granny looks and “weird” offbeats.

The rise of -cores is a creative and fundamental fashion move. It may also be a sign that many of us would rather be in an alternate reality. And in one of those realities, there are no eyebrows. I thought it was just a Brooklyn thing, but 64-year-old Madonna was recently photographed without eyebrows.

Strange days. But as Elsa Schiaparelli, legendary Italian surrealist designer of the 1930s and 1940s said: “In difficult times, fashion is always outrageous”. #weird girl.

That explains why you might be in an airport, like I was recently, and see more of an adult wearing bralette, comical cargo shorts, and huge purple furry slippers that look like they were designed by muppets. Or you might notice headlines about fashionista Bella Hadid “nailing” the “Adam Sandler look” (basketball shorts, wrinkled dad shirts).

No matter how often the apparel industry says it’s time to put our bras back on and buy separate dry-cleaned-only pieces, we cling to our pandemic clogs, jumpsuits and ‘nap dresses’ . Sure, some women wear suits, but this season they’re gloriously oversized and candy-colored (#dopaminedressing). Meanwhile, men are opting for easier than usual with drawstring work pants that look professional but, as the Wall Street Journal put it, “the waistband whispers ‘pajamas.’”

In response to current events, Stitch Fix, the online style consultants, have christened a new category of office wear Business Comfort. It looks like an airplane seat, but it’s a nod to our contrarian mood.

Fashion houses are adapting by creating expensive versions of casual wear. If you can’t beat them, join them at a higher price. Thus, in a rupture of the space-time continuum, Dior and Manolo Blahnik (the king of masochistic heels) make shoes with Birkenstock, icon of the ease of the ugly earth-crunchy shoe. There is also the rise of “athletics”, which leads to the inexplicable “long tracksuit dress”. And for the rest of us, the confused masses yearning to stay free, Victoria’s Secret, that purveyor of sexy, cartoonish women’s lingerie, has rebranded itself with plain underwear that promises no suffragette pain.

History suggests that the pendulum will eventually return to more conformist and more binding looks. Women are generally not comfortable for too long; it makes people nervous. Just ask Rosie about the riveters who had to turn in their suits after WWII. But while a calmer fashion might mean the world is stabilizing, won’t all that #normcore be boring?

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