What Will Street Style Look Like After Coronavirus?

Fashion is reactionary. Historically, style mirrors cultural shifts, whether it be the flamboyant Roaring Twenties flappers or the psychedelic hippie garb that reflected the political and social upheaval of the anti-Vietnam war youth. 2020 has observed an impeachment, a pandemic, a recession, and horrific racial injustice — and it's only half-way through the year. For many these traumatic shake-ups are likely reshaping the way you consume and express fashion. Street style, in particular, is an industry fraction that despite its ubiquity in recent years, has been rendered practically nonexistent since the world went into lockdown. So what does the future of street style photography, at Fashion Week or otherwise, entail? Even as parts of the globe enter phases of reopening, it's plausible that it won't entail a return to the 'normal' it once was.

Street style's identity has morphed into different iterations throughout the last decade — what began as an earnest display of personal style morphed into an all-encompassing circus outside of shows — but it's always been centered around spotlighting the individual. Personal style, when captured through the lens of a photographer, can have the power to spur fashion trends and steer designers' collections towards a color, cut, or styling trick. But now, designers have canceled their fashion shows, and come fall you can expect a much simpler display. The global pandemic means that some editors, influencers and buyers will eschew attending fashion week altogether. Ahead, hear from forecasters, photographers, and fashion editors on what these past six months mean for the future of street style and how it may be entering a new phase — one that's unprecedented and arguably long overdue.

Street Style As An Integral Part Of Fashion

Iconic street style photographer Bill Cunningham once remarked that "constant change is the breath of fashion." If 2020 has demonstrated anything, it's that change has arrived whether you're prepared for it or not. For photographers, this spirit of transformation is what motivates them to return to the streets season after season.

"Many people look to street style photography to analyze and understand the trends during a period of time," Photographer Darrel Hunter tells TZR. "If this were to die out I think it would have an adverse effect on the industry." Most street photographers see their work as methods of documenting the essence of a person or zeitgeist, rather than simply snapping the latest designer trend. "I think that fashion is a world that is strongly dependent on telling a story and creating a feeling," Photographer Christian Vierig tells TZR. "Street style will always be a part of that."

That said, the current state of fashion week remains up in the air, with many designers opting out of traditional schedules and entire cities, like London, moving their showrooms online. This leaves photographers uncertain of how they'll capture street style but many remain optimistic. "I don’t think street style photography will die just like any other form of photography won’t die," Photographer Acielle of Style du Monde tells TZR. "I keep reminding myself that this will pass. Humanity has been through hard times before. We’ll overcome this." It's probable that if fashion week were to resume in September, a lower turnout is to be expected. "As much as this is a difficult and strange time it will be very interesting to see how things are going forward," Hunter says. "I'm curious to see how we can come up with new ideas and different ways of producing street photography." Already these photographers are turning their lenses away from the fashion schedule, capturing images of protestors marching after the death of George Floyd.

An Emphasis On Authentic Personal Style

Christian Vierig/Getty Images

One tangible way street style is predicted to change is through a revived emphasis on authenticity. "Over the past few years you’ve had a lot of people attending shows being dressed head-to-toe by designers and changing in between each show for each brand," Hunter notes. "I think [recent cultural shifts] may have an effect on people being a lot more conscious of what they’re wearing and probably returning to a more authentic personal style." Maria Coleiro, the street style editor at trend forecasting agency Fashion Snoops agrees with this sentiment. "The COVID crisis has inadvertently created the opportunity for street style to revert focus onto the seasonless, fashion-forward civilians, in turn, encouraging photographers and editors to document fashion trends through a more cultural lens," she says. Coleiro also argues that recent events will increase mindful purchases. "One remarkable outcome from the COVID crisis is perhaps the heightened sense of consumer ethics," she says. "This historical situation has forced us to think deeper about promoting brands within the street style landscape. As consumers continue to educate themselves on the realities of the fashion industry, questions like who made my clothes? will increasingly become part of the conversation at all levels."

The Role Of The Influencer

"Analyzing the future of street style is intrinsically linked to the discussion of the evolving role of the influencer," Coleiro says. The internet has dramatically accelerated the pace of trends and the influencer is often the vehicle by which they're delivered to the masses. "As researchers, we’ve learned that there is no such thing as a shortage of visual content because we are all content creators through easy access to social media platforms." While the in-person act of photographing street style outside of, say, Louis Vuitton's runway show in Paris is not feasible right now, she argues the digital world remains a space to disseminate trends. "Street style is a malleable sport that will shape-shift into any form in order to get the visual message across," Coleiro continues. "So as long as it is accessible to a wide audience, trends will continue to circulate." Take this point a step further and one could argue that until photographers are able to freely snap individuals on the street, the majority will consume street style is via the influencer.

Bergdorf Goodman's Chloe King, who is often photographed during fashion week, warns this might eliminate some of the magic that comes from street fashion, however. "What I think is so special about street style photography is the added layer of the photographer's perspective: how they observe clothing interacting with the city surroundings," she says. "That's what differentiates good street style into something that feels like a social commentary, a time capsule. And every photographer has a different perspective! You just can't have that kind of artful visual conversation taking photos of yourself."

Thinking Outside Of The Fashion Week Box

Street style has always existed outside of fashion week, it just happens to be a dense gathering that photographers choose to shoot at — but that might be changing. "Even without the travel of the fashion weeks, once certain restrictions are lifted I will still be able to go out into the street and get back to being able to capture street style as I did in the beginning," Hunter adds. "Just walking around the streets of whatever city I was in and getting inspiration from people on the street and capturing natural authentic street style." If you think about it, many of the well-known photographers that come to mind when you think of street fashion — Bill Cunningham, Vivian Maier, Robert Frank — all captured the essence of the individual without having to have waited outside of a fashion show. "While there might be less peacocking in crowds outside shows, perhaps there will be a return to shooting people in their daily rhythm," King says. "Less emphasis on 'full looks' and latest designer pieces, and back to unapologetic originality — something I think New York City ... and Milan ... does so well."

How Retail Can Adapt

You've probably clocked major retail sites pivoting their imagery from manicured editorials to approachable street style shots, which means this conversation also applies to the future of online shopping. "Covid-19 is no doubt going to change the industry forever," Moda Operandi Fashion and Buying Director Lisa Aiken tells TZR. "Moda Operandi has shifted our focus away from the street and are using our platforms to help the customer adapt to her new normal; what she can wear for video conferencing and how she can enrich her lifestyle at home." Of course, a time will come when WFH won't be part of your daily vernacular and you won't be shopping for Zoom conference call pieces. When that day arrives, Aiken says we'll get a better idea of what to expect next. "When the cities open up again, how women dress is indicative of what they will want, so we will always use it as a reference point," she says. "Street style is more than just clickbait, it puts runway pieces into the perspective of everyday life."

Aiken suggests that the past six months will have a notable impact on individual designers, which may very well result in an aesthetic shift for street style as a whole. "I have a feeling that many brands will redefine when and how they show their collections, and I’m hoping that means we can return to the deeply personal aspect that originated street style," she says. "Bill Cunningham, for example, turned the study of how people dress into an art form and practiced this craft yearlong. Street style has taken a turn from that sentiment and grown into its own industry that follows a strict fashion calendar, and mostly involves photographers chasing down influencers, rather than capturing the diverse personalities amongst showgoers."

A New Wave Of Creativity

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"With more quiet time, less travel, and fewer social obligations, I am hopeful we might be on the verge of a rich phase of creativity," King says. "Like other artists, how will designers respond to this bizarre and traumatic time, and produce something beautiful? As life slows down, we might see fewer trends emerge and more introspective and development of brand DNA." She offers up the example of Dries Van Noten, a designer beloved for his reliably consistent collections of exquisitely crafted clothing. "It's worked exceptionally well [to be] simply and singularly committed to creating ... not trends ... but beautiful clothes." With the possibility of allotting designers more time to be creative, the implications for how this could trickle down to street style is equal parts profound and exciting. Stay tuned.