Clothes that say Stay Away: The new fashions of social distancing are here

“The body is a big sagacity, a plurality with one sense, a war and a peace, a flock and a shepherd. ”

~Friedrich Nietzsche

Quarantine has made us questions things we took for granted –and deal with things we never thought we will be dealing with. Enter: the importance of social distancing. Clothes have become the main venture of securing our physical personal space while out-a a physical barrier between us and the others around us.

In a world where going to the supermarket requires ritual-like preservation much like preparing for a matter of life-and-death, it feels natural to question our relationship with the rituals-accessories: our clothes. We now use clothes to cloth us and then-to primarily protect us from the others while out. In fact, as we are running out of social occasions to dress-up, we place function over fashion-at least at first. This way clothes became our physical barrier. And yet this is not the first time.

Clothing has long served as a useful way to mitigate close contact and unnecessary exposure. In this current crisis, face masks have become a fashion accessory that signals, “Stay away.” In the historical past, keeping distance especially at a sociopolitical level (between genders, races, and classes) was an interchangeable part of social life. This type of social distancing didn’t have to do with hygienic rules or personal isolation, the key focus shifted towards class distinction and preserving an etiquette for it.18th century voluminous skirts were a signifier of the upper class in the 28th century-avoiding household chores was a privilege only a few women could enjoy-and thus wear impractical clothing.

In the same sense, socially-distancing large hats with sharp metal needles as hairpins took over to protect women from potential suitors that would set female bodies into the dangerous territory of close encounters with a stranger or worse-a suitor.

So what do we wear today to signify other to keep away-or to force them? If there are social distancing fashions of now-what do they say about our perception of self-and most importantly, of the body we live in? For Henry Miller, “Our own physical body possesses a wisdom which we who inhabit the body lack. We give it orders which make no sense.”

Does avoiding the physicality of the other make, over time, sense? When the other becomes the potential enemy, physicality is detested, best avoided. Everything that comes out of a body is problematic and potentially contagious. How this will develop in terms of fashion and trends remains to be seen. One thing is certain, the fashions of the future will be seriously considering social distancing a virtue, reborn.

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