Decades are often identified by fashion trends. The hippie era of the 1960s, disco days of the 1970s and the over-the-top color of the 1980s directly connect us to a place in time. The 2020s have not had their defining moment yet, but with hopes of normality returning soon, we can't help but think: What will we wear?
“Everyone is waiting for the big party. People are ready to dine with friends, go to a party and have cocktails. Those moments will feel so celebratory,” fashion historian and curator Michelle Finamore says.
It is that hopeful feeling of upcoming celebrations that has fashion insiders comparing today’s environment to that of the 1920s. A century ago, our country had returned from war and was healing from the Spanish Flu pandemic. Much like today, after a year of political strife, social unrest and battling a crippling pandemic, many look to the past to anticipate what trends are to come.
The 1920s were revolutionary for women’s fashion. During that decade, the corset was tossed and hemlines were raised.
“The 1920s are continually revisited because it is a moment in time that feels full of positivity," Finamore says. "Women had won the right to vote, and the clothing had energy and motion — swinging necklaces, fringe, tassels. It is all very appealing."
Finamore believes the desire to return to a more glamorous time is evident by the recent successes of shows like "Bridgerton" and "The Queen’s Gambit," which both made headlines for iconic fashions and dreamy sets. These historic dramas are popular because they bring a level of escapist glamour to people’s lives, with "Bridgerton" now ranking as Netflix’s highest streaming series ever.
While at home binging these blockbusters and stuck wearing 2020’s biggest trend, the sweatsuit, fashion and the means by which we obtain it were changing. Curbside pickup and virtual delivery services are now part of the common shopping experience, causing some to wonder if retail stores are still relevant.
“For years, the conversation has been is it brick and mortar or is it digital? There is not a clear delineation anymore. There is a symbiotic relationship between stores and their website,” says AnneMarie Dillard Jazic, vice president of online experience and digital marketing at Dillard’s.
Today, shopping experiences often begin online, whether that is someone spotting an outfit on social media or watching a recent runway show online and wanting to create something similar. Those experiences are then executed by a multitude of paths that involve in-store, online and a combination of both.
Purchasing behaviors when shopping out of necessity are likely to have a permanent shift in delivery, but for many, shopping is a social activity. In a pre-2020 world, weekend shopping excursions with friends were normal.
“As we see increased consumer confidence and a return to a more public life, I do anticipate a return to physical spaces and in-person activities, one of those being shopping in a retail store,” Dillard Jazic says.
In 2020, fashion e-commerce accounted for approximately 29% of total fashion retail sales in the U.S., making it the fastest growing vertical in e-commerce. The pandemic might have generated an increase in online shopping, but it also created a devout following of local loyalists.
“COVID made people more aware of their local economy. People that never really thought about shopping locally are now committed to supporting their local stores,” says Angela Strauss, a buyer and stylist for Barbara/Jean in Little Rock.
But as we look to a future full of shopping and bustling social calendars, will people be ready to sacrifice the casualwear of the past year?
“The women I work with are ready for any excuse to wear something great," Strauss says. "People still need that creative expression."
And while virtual events and working from home knocked down high heel sales in the U.S. by 77% in 2020, it is yet to be determined if heels will bounce back with a return to outings and offices.
“The age of the heel is not over," Dillard Jazic believes. "They are empowering, and I anticipate a woman wanting to put on her heels and feel that glamour again.”
Glamour is a recurring theme for a post-COVID fashion environment. The desire to get dressed and freely celebrate the little things feels luxurious. If history is any indication, people will indulge in pre-pandemic activities with that same vibrancy of the 1920s.
“We look back on earlier eras with a sense of nostalgia, but how much is actually based in reality, we will never really know,” Finamore says.
One can only wonder what fashion historians will write about these current times, but hopefully the story ends with lots of glamour.