Op-Ed: If Fashion Is Dead, Where Do Trends Go?

By now, everyone knows the Coronavirus epidemic brought seismic changes. With all socio-economic activities depressed since the outbreak of COVID-19, one of the major areas which have been affected is undoubtedly the fashion industry. Fashion weeks were canceled, cruise collections were postponed or avoided altogether, ambitious magazine editorials became a pre quarantine thing. Overwhelmed, the fashion industry started making baby steps to embrace the chance and look forward to addressing the radically shifted consumers’ needs. It seemed that the fashion system, at least as we knew it, was a thing of the past.

In a recent article for The Guardian, titled Coronavirus is putting the whole idea of fashion out of fashion, journalist Rachel Cooke indeed argued that even the overall perception of fashion has been radically shifted since the coronavirus outbreak. “Fashion, it seems to me, is over, at least in the sense we’ve come to know it recently. No more flamboyant, wasteful shows. No more unnecessary collections. No more department stores in which “exclusive” versions of items from said collections – behold, an ugly zip you’ll find absolutely nowhere else! – may be sold.” she argued. This made me think: in today’s shattered reality, can we actually believe fashion is out of fashion?

Let’s take things from the start. Roland Barthes was one of the first to pinpoint that fashion is a structured system, a visual narrative that goes beyond the surface to express a multitude of things. In His first book on the subject, published in 1967, aptly titled The Fashion System, he analyses the flowery, descriptive language in fashion magazines Elle and Le Jardin des Modes, in juxtaposition to images printed in such publications. For Barthes, fashion is all about language. “it is not the object but the name that creates desire; it is not the dream but the meaning that sells” he notes.

Clothes do convey meanings in society beyond the superficial, enacting, and even creating power relations between people. This interaction is so critical to a society it cannot be overlooked. As long as we make the conscious choice of wearing clothes, we are uttering something in the language of fashion for the others to see and react to it. I dress therefore I speak. “We can lie in the language of dress, or try to tell the truth, but unless we are naked and bald it is impossible to be silent.” wrote Alison Lurie in her best seller,The Language of Clothes.

So, perhaps what is out of the calendar are trends as we know then? For those of us who work in fashion,  the radical changes of the corona epidemic have created new consumer habits and trends- trends that were in fact already in the making. Fashion can not only showcase socio-economic- changes-it can even predict them with surprising accuracy. This is hardly new.Anne Hollander, the author of Seeing Through Clothes told NYT in a 2006 article that the French Revolution was heralded by the fashionable folk of the time. Women, before 1789, began to wear “simple, belted shifts,” while men wore “plebeian garb” like “rough coats and unkempt neckwear.”

Ask any fashion forecaster and will tell you that the coronavirus epidemic showcased trends: sweat pants, sheer practicality, and minimalism. Ask again and they will admit those were trends already in the making long before the epidemic. Hoodies, streetwear hype, relaxed workwear etiquette, even masks; everything was there for those that could see it. Trends, trends, and more trends. As Barthes would say: “Every new Fashion is a refusal to inherit, subversion against the oppression of the preceding Fashion; Fashion experiences itself as a right, the natural right of the present over the past.”

After all, today’s no-trend reality is a trend by itself.