The pandemic has made ‘trends’ entirely meaningless
When I met a friend after a year recently, we both happened to be in identical down jackets and t-shirts. We laughed at our fortuitous ode to Uniqlo’s ultra-rational design sensibility. Fifteen months ago, I would have found it alarming to opt for practical and neutral clothing: or that my sensibility reflected that of a distinctly old-fashioned middle-aged man. I have always resisted the lure of comfort in favor of style, but the pandemic has shattered me. Like everyone else, it was easy to succumb to dull, shapeless rags that matched the volatile mood swings of 2020/21.
The past year has offered too few opportunities to dress up, leading to all kinds of disturbing discoveries. One, that we own too much stuff. Two, we need very little. Third, after all those months in sweatpants, why have a big wardrobe when you can wear multiple items over and over – the ones you really love? The uniform approach to style has had followers since innovators like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg flaunted their contempt for variety by sporting the same clothes every day. Fashion thrift stores apparently aren’t for serious men, and after this serious year, this spartan approach is gaining traction with women as well. Notably, the pandemic has made “trends” entirely meaningless – has fashion really changed with each season and how silly is it?
There’s a scene in the iconic fashion film The Devil Wears Prada where the dreaded editor explains the poorly dressed intern’s outfit to him. The essential, conveyed in a tone of overwhelming contempt: “Do you think you chose this sweater? Oscar De La Renta made a collection in cerulean blue, copies of which flooded department stores, after which it landed in your tragic closet. The dialogue highlights the trivialization of the bloated fast-paced fashion industry and recalls how so many of us lived, until 2019. Shopping has been woven into the tapestry of our lives, a weekend indulgence to hope. Consumerism has many facets, not the least of which is the indescribable, fleeting joy of owning something new. This attitude has passed its expiration date in the post-Covid world.
The profound upheavals of the past year have created a permanent change that will affect everything. At this moment, everyone is wandering in a fog of philosophical uncertainty, lost, and in search of new stable principles. For example, for a decade, I have been using a cream that costs Rs 4000 for a small bottle. This ended on the last lockdown and it goes without saying that I look exactly the same. I am horrified when I think of how much money I wasted on garbage, as the victim of flippant and insidious marketing. Like me, too many people realize that clothes and accessories aren’t made to be revered – and that you have to withstand the sensory manipulations of glittering stores.
Covid provided a rare opportunity to correct our acquisitive natures. Possessions satisfy a human urge, but the widespread obsession with possessing random things seems to be waning. Historically, the crisis has always impacted aesthetic preferences and changed outlook: it was the years after World War II that normalized women in pants and jeans, clothing previously reserved for men. Maybe we’ll end up being grateful for those days of lockdown that have shed some light on a lot of things we previously missed. Mainly, that we can find within ourselves to look beyond cheap pleasures, towards beauty and truth.
The writer is director, Hutkay Films