Since the dawn of time, fashion has visually told the stories of our history as a society because world events and fashion have an unbreakable symbiotic relationship.  Unlike reading about history, fashion is visceral and relatable.  It’s one of the few ways we can visually capture how large cultural events in history trickled down and affected people at large.  We are able to view living snapshots of our ancestors and see history personified through the clothing that was worn.

We can look back and see that it was WWI, the Spanish Flu, and women gaining the right to vote, and notice that it coincided with women giving up bustles, tight girdles, and floor-length dresses for shapeless, ankle-length styles that gave them a greater range of movement, freedom, and independence.  Or how the events and unrest of the 60s created the hippie movement as an act of rebellion against the older and rigid generations.  As women burned their bras, clothes were relaxed, unkempt, and free, just like the kids of this era were fighting to be.   Even as Y2K was looming in 1999 and we were all pretty sure the world wasn’t going to end, fashion was influenced by these potential doomsday predictions and endless news cycles, and for a brief period, the futuristic tech trend, ripstop, nanotechnology in textiles and Muccia Prada’s nylon fashion were all the rage.

Cultural and societal influences on fashion do not have to be large or catastrophic to make an impact. The 80’s movie Flashdance and Jane Fonda’s workout tapes inspired millions of women to wear leg warmers to do non-aerobic things and cut the necks off their sweatshirts. Grunge music out of the Pacific Northwest in the early 90s rippled and grunge fashion became a worldwide trend that lasted longer than the music did.

COVID Irrecoverably Changed the Way We Dress

When fashion changes, to simply say these things are “trending,” is reductionist, at best, because, behind every change, there is usually something culturally that is an influence.  Trends don’t change solely because a designer devilishly decided to play head games with you and your wardrobe budget.  Designers live in the world, are influenced by what is happening in society, and are taking dictation from you and the world by keeping their finger on the pulse of where everything is headed.  Therefore to say that the COVID pandemic hasn’t irrecoverably changed the way we dress would be naive.  We will never dress the way we did pre-pandemic because we can’t. We’re not those people, and we won’t ever be again.  The world has changed and so have we.

I see this in every client I work with because like designers, I also keep my pulse on what society wants by just being a fellow human of the world and listening to my clients.  Even if you aren’t cognizant of how strongly cultural shifts influence your fashion choices, you are choosing differently.  For some, anything that feels reminiscent of pre-pandemic fashion now feels dusty and old.  The negative reaction for some people is so strong, it’s visceral.  

Post-Pandemic, Women Have Come Back Stronger

Most importantly, women are done.  When clients consider putting their feet into a pair of pumps for work that don’t have a substantial block heel, they cringe.  Wearing a somber-colored sensible suit in sad grey or a smart trim sheath dress with and blazer to give a speech gives them the willies.  And forget playing by some dressing rules that were crafted during the more patriarchal pre-pandemic years.  During those years, women hesitated to buck these guidelines. Now they scoff at those rules because women have collectively decided they’re finished apologizing for taking up space in the workplace.  As society finally woke up during COVID and realized what women knew all along — that women were all doing double the work, grooming twice as much, in charge of the majority of the household responsibilities, and more…while getting paid less — women appreciated their value and are now demanding more and apologizing less.  They are diversifying their wardrobes and calling the shots.  Maybe they want to wear the somber grey suit, maybe they don’t.  That’s for them to decide now. So it comes as no surprise that women are thinking about what they wear in more confident ways going forward. They are more strategic, more interested in color, and not interested in fitting into some bento box look that makes them invisible and others comfortable.

Mrs. Modernist

I am going to talk about an example of this today, my client Mrs. Modernist, and our recent work together because her wardrobe is just one example of the directions I am seeing in work wardrobes changing.   

I have named my client Mrs. Modernist for a few reasons.  I met her quite a few years ago when she hired me and we were both younger entrepreneurs.  I would call us at the time both pioneers in our industries.  I wouldn’t say either of us were the inventors of our professions, but both of us did take professions that existed and modernized them with our own concepts.  We were forward-thinking and at times perhaps too forward-thinking for how ready the world was to hear us. But we both kept on, continued to be successful, grew our careers, and now, in a culturally-shifted, post-pandemic world, both our businesses are doing fantastically well.  Finally, the world has a true listening for what both of us have been saying for decades in our respective careers.  This is why I am calling my client, Mrs. Modernist.  She is a true pioneer and forward thinker.

Mrs. Modernist reached out when she was getting ready for a large upcoming speaking event that would span over the course of several days.  This would be a huge event with quite a few moving parts.  Inside of that, what we would also be building would continue to go on to be her working capsule for what she would wear to other events, meetings, and appointments throughout the summer.  Our plan would be to build out her capsule in a cohesive way that was more comprehensive than just for her multi-day event.  

Mrs. Modernist’s Capsule

Shop for Mrs. Modernist’s Wardrobe Capsule

1 Silk & Cotton Sweater 2 Ringer Tee 3 Belleville Top 4 Barry Dress 5 Doina Earrings 6 Washable Silk Tee 7 Single Button Blazer 8 Single Button Blazer 9 Glass Teardrop Earrings 10 Upcollar Dickey Jacket 11 Fleur-de-Lis Earrings 12 Bashina Shirt 13 Hutton Belt 14 Butterfly Midi Dress 15 Washable Silk Tee 16 Belleville Top 17 Rory Cardigan 18 Twist Buckle Belt 19 Flex-Waist Trouser 20 Tailored Trouser 21 Tailored Trouser 22 Gia Flats 23 Danza Flats 24 Cerchio Sneakers 25 Lizza Nuova Sandals 26 Washable Silk Tee 27 The Heel

When Mrs. Modernist reached out, she had one dress selected for her speaking event that would be in front of a very large and conservative audience; the orange wildly printed DVF dress (#4).   In pre-pandemic times, never in a million years would anyone have found this dress acceptable for an audience like this.  In post-pandemic times, not only is the dress on point with Mrs. Modernist’s brand, it’s refreshing, alive, and feels like a new page is turning.  Post-pandemic, this is what the bold message of color seems to be saying in the workplace.  Perhaps it’s a message from women taking a stand, saying, “this is how we are showing up now.  And make no mistake.  You will see us.”

But clearly, the color doesn’t stop here.  Mrs. Modernist was completely inspired by color.  It’s not the case with all my clients, as I am currently working on a professional capsule for another client that has absolutely no color in it at all, but the other reason I think the color is so popular for professional clothing right now goes back to my point about a page-turning and looking ahead.  It’s not just bold brights, it’s all levels of color from soft and muted to bold and bright.  Another time I can recall seeing so many colorful suits for women was back in the early 90s.  Coincidentally, if you recall, the Year of the Woman was a label attached to 1992 after the election of a number of female senators in the United States.  It’s interesting how in times in history where women are elevated, so is color in the professional fashion space.

We also need to touch on how women are wearing color professionally as compared to how women wore it pre-pandemic.  Post-pandemic, women have become much more strategic, focused, and minimalist with their wardrobes.  This isn’t a pre-pandemic time of color where it was endless colorful tops, a gazillion neutral bottoms, and repeating neutral black/colored top looks.  That’s a tired look that died in 2020.   Post-pandemic, women are strategizing their buys and capsuling small, purposeful assortments of clothes.  Mrs. Modernist’s wardrobe is a perfect example of this. Her capsule has one base neutral with clothes that are strategically combined to get the maximum amount of use with less.

It should also be said that while not all my clients are leaning into color, all women are strongly leaning into something, and this is clearly an influence of the times. There is less wishy-washiness in women’s choices and instead clear decisions. Women are done allowing themselves by at the mercy of bloated, confusing closets filled with needless things. The message is clear, just like women stepped up and demanded more visibility and support in the workplace, they are doing the same with their wardrobes.

You Don’t Just Use a Mirror, Fashion Is The Mirror

As with past times in history, right now we are living a huge shift in our culture where fashion is very much being impacted.  We’re still tired and still struggling with the PTSD from COVID.  We are relating to ourselves, each other, and the world differently.  There are things from the pandemic that we learned and appreciated despite the experience being generally awful.  These things include developing a love of simplicity, a desire for less noise or anything that is extraneous; an appreciation of quality and less vs. more, and a want for deeper meaning in our lives.  We’re also living in a time where we so badly want to move on and know for sure we can look forward and finally let this be in the past.  We want to be assured that it’s okay to be optimistic and finally say goodbye to masks and vaccines, and restrictions.  Seen in that context, what we are wearing post-pandemic is simply a mirror that is reflecting all of these things.