Updated: Dec 8, 2022
Words by Elise Staveley
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no better time to reflect on fashion’s response to global events. World War I and World War II along with The Great Depression were devastating global events that brought on what we can call ‘fashion revolutions’.
Fashion, as a form of expression has demonstrated how we have been impacted by these global events throughout time. Today, let’s take a look at changes in fashion that followed these global events and explore what could potentially change in the fashion industry post-COVID-19.
World War I: (1914-1918)
Both during and after World War I, women’s clothing became more austere with a lower availability of fabrics. Skirts and dresses became shorter in length as a result of it being more cost effective to use less fabric. The Great War also saw a newly established perception of women’s roles in society with the “revolution” of women wearing trousers and more military-inspired styles being introduced as a nod to their involvement in the war.
The Great Depression: (1929-1933)
When the Great Depression struck, the world was in the midst of an economic crisis. Much of the population had very low disposable income and therefore could not afford to splurge on extravagant pieces. There were major changes in textiles, with cheaper fabrics being made to replace what was a previously more expensive fabric such as the use of nylon as a replacement of rayon. Designs became less extravagant as many women made their own garments using only the fabrics they could afford or reworking older clothing - producing vastly minimalistic designs.
World War II: (1939-1945)
Much like the fashion that followed World War I, post-World War II saw textiles being rationed as there were major restrictions on materials as a result of bans on many imported goods. This led to a rise in man-made fibres. There were also prominent changes in the silhouettes of garments as they became more lavish and feminine after being masculine and military-style during the war.
What to expect after COVID-19:
In a devastating global crisis like this, it is important that we try and appreciate the silver linings that can come out of this. The global newfound appreciation for sustainable practices in fashion is a major benefit that will hopefully be on the rise from here on out.
As sad as it is to admit, the beloved fashion industry “is one of the most polluting and wasteful industries” (fashionrevolution.org, 2020).
However, in the current stalling of the fashion industry, environmental improvements are on the rise with less manufacturing and pollution and it seems that people are finally noticing the difference. People are now realising their personal environmental footprint and are now turning to sustainable brands.
Sara Maino, the deputy Editor in Chief of Vogue Italia recently spoke about how people did not recognise our impact on the environment until now and,
“in a way this [pandemic] is a message... change has to be done now”.
Similarly, to the effects of World War I, World War II and The Great Depression, it is likely that many people may embrace a new interpretation of fashion and focus on practicality and minimalistic staples being worn. Especially with mass global job losses and the economic crisis that we are facing, there will be a major decrease in disposable income and therefore less people will be willing to splurge on “unnecessary” clothing items.
However, rest assured many consumers are still happy to spend their dosh on an #isofit, a.k.a a colour coordinated “must-have” loungewear set with an unnecessary price tag. A recent article from Luxiders stated that this pandemic is
“a call to action for the fashion industry to slow down”.
During life post-COVID-19 we can hopefully expect to see a slow in excessive consumerism and a movement away from mass production.
Jacquemus Spring/Summer 2020
Many world-renowned designers have made changes to their normal practices, especially surrounding fashion week and their seasonal collection releases. Giorgio Armani’s Milan Fashion Week show was live-streamed, rather than presented to a live audience. This can be a possible foreshadowing of the fashion industry moving towards a more virtualised form of presentation. In terms of the fashion industry slowing its pace, luxury brands such as Jacquemus and YSL have embraced the current times by slowing down the “rhythm” of the seasons. Simon Porte Jacquemus, CEO of Jacquemus described this as his, “new step toward sustainability” with presenting only 2 collections rather than 6.
Saint Laurent announced ahead of the commencement of global Fashion Week events that they would not be included in the shows. As revealed by their Instagram, the decision was made “conscious of the current circumstance” and that they plan to “lead their own rhythm”. The ideal outcome of these influential designers' decisions is that others follow suit and work towards sustainable practices.
As we move towards emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic - just as we did in the post-war era, it is clear that we’re about to see a lot of changes in the fashion industry. It is essential that we all individually adapt to these changes by embracing sustainable brands.
Images with thanks to Getty Images, Fashion Trendsetter, Pinterest and Instagram