Dressing habits shifted drastically over the course of the year. In this era of COVID-19, working from home has become the new normal. And when Zoom calls are the sole form of communication, the only logical outfit to wear while plumping on a couch is a set of sweats. But things, for better or worse, are changing. Now, almost a year into 2020, phase two of quarantine fashion has come into effect, with relaxed suits and cashmere lounge sets replacing relaxed athleisure. People are beginning to step out in the world again, and are seeking to add a bit more of their past selves into their fashion sense, even as many states are still seeing a rise in COVID cases.
“I think the pandemic has shifted the way in which women dress, placing a stronger emphasis on timeless, investment pieces now more than ever,” says Valerie Macaulay, the co-founder of La Ligne, a direct-to-consumer label that offers elevated basics with a focus on stripes. “There is no doubt a shared excitement about dressing up again, whether it’s out for dinner or a socially-distanced evening with friends.”
Both personally and professionally, Macaulay experienced these continuous changes in quarantine style. And she isn’t the only designer that is her own best customer. Harwell Godfrey, a jeweler known for using inlay and gemstones to form Indigenous patterns, also “feels the need to dress up and pile on jewelry” any chance she gets. And Margaret Kleveland — who, along with her sister, Katherine, is the mastermind behind cult bohemian brand Dôen — is seeing continued sales success with their day dresses this season.
Like many, these designers have gone through the same doldrums of being sequestered in their homes, but they also have the added pressure of quickly adapting to the zeitgeist and offering items that reflect it. They are running small businesses, after all, and have had to circumvent the financial fallout that saw many fashion companies furloughing employees and cutting corners to alleviate the lack of retail orders.
From a life in quarantine, managing their teams virtually, to this post-lockdown period, when there are moments to get jazzed up, Macaulay, Godfrey, and Kleveland continue to adjust to fashion’s ever-changing landscape, especially now that we’re in phase two of quarantine life.
Phase Two Fashion: Adapting to the New Normal
For the fashion industry, the pandemic was a lesson in Darwinism; only those who can evolve were able to survive the economic downturn. Many burgeoning labels that relied solely on wholesale accounts or the foot traffic at brick-and-mortar locations weren’t able to sustain their businesses. And those that did were able to do so because they already offered timeless pieces and were able pivot their sourcing and selling strategies swiftly.
“The most sizable impact on our business has been delays due to shutdowns,” explains Kleveland, whose designs before quarantine were made of wool and silk georgette. “As factories worldwide experienced closures for certain time periods during the late spring and early summer, we transitioned to organic cotton and an eco-alternative to poly bags.”
By finding a quick alternative, Dôen sustained its product flow. It also had a direct-to-consumer platform that not only gave it more opportunities with vendors, but also didn’t leave it at the mercy of retail buys — a channel that La Ligne, too, took full advantage of. “We were presented with a host of challenges, but as a digitally-native brand, we were fortunate to have had the flexibility to evolve our strategy, add discounts, and philanthropic initiatives, and shift product deliveries to ensure we were launching styles that women needed the most during this time,” says Macaulay.
Even a jewelry brand like Harwell Godfrey was able to weather the storm because it promoted its colorful, lighthearted, and, more important, timeless aesthetic. “Thankfully sales have been good,” says the eponymous designer. “I think my customers wanted something beautiful to distract themselves from all of the horrors of 2020.”
Whether it was a great pair of earrings that added pizzazz to video conferences or chord sweaters perfect for lounging at home, these labels offered investment pieces from the onset. And because they already had elevated basics ideal for quarantine life, it was easier for them to adapt to the new normal and beyond.
Phase Two Fashion: Defining Quarantine Culture
Some call it biz-leisure, others workleisure, but the message is the same: The standard way of dressing from the start of quarantine was all about comfort 24/7. Everything glossy, gauzy, or form-fitting — styles best suited for in-person events — isn’t conducive to days spent at home.
“We definitely saw an appetite for comfortable, easy-to-wear pieces amongst our customers, especially for our sweaters and the Bonne Nuit pajamas,” says Macaulay.
Indeed, people gravitated toward cozy fabrics and roomy silhouettes, and, as a result, loungewear sales skyrocketed. “This summer, sleepwear, nightgowns, and breezy cotton dresses were our most popular styles,” says Kleveland.
“I definitely bought into the loungewear phenomenon, and logged lots of time in my Zoom uniform: Business on the top, party pajamas on the bottom,” agrees Godfrey.
Though this appetite for comfort is still riding strong, these designers have found that sweats and other cozy styles aren’t the be-all and end-all for women on the go in the second phase. The desire to dress up and have fun with fashion is an itch that many want to scratch now that they have reasons to go out in public. Luckily for Macaulay, Godfrey, and Kleveland, all that was needed of them was to make minor adjustments to their collections of wardrobe staples.
Phase Two Fashion: Dressing Anew
Looking ahead, these designers are seeking out new ways to embrace this balance between sophistication and comfort. They’re tweaking popular items from past collections — changing the fabric or making the silhouettes less constricting — to reflect the standard of living in this new phase.
“We’ve expanded our line of tees and included more leggings and union suits for fall ... cozy layering items that people can hunker down in at home as it gets colder,” Kleveland says. “We’ve also definitely seen a trend towards more day dresses in cotton rather than silk occasion dresses.”
Still, they understand the urge to walk outdoors in a look that has absolutely nothing to do with comfort, but everything to do with making a statement. “The people at my local FedEx and grocery store have seen me having some major fashion moments,” says Godfrey. “When I need a pick-me-up, I put on a colorful printed dress and a statement piece from my upcoming collection.”
Though people are now afforded opportunities to dress up, many have grown accustomed to their sweats and leggings. Essentially, phase two of quarantine culture is all about finding a sweet spot; about combining classic standout pieces for school drop-offs and small gatherings, with items that were de rigueur in the first few months of the health crisis.
“I think I might have taken the joys of dressing up for granted, because when I leave the house these days, I am definitely trying to create my own sartorial moments and express myself with color and print in a way I wasn't during quarantine,” says Macaulay. “The key is to find new ways to look effortlessly chic, while still prioritizing comfort.”