We’re all sick of the word, but it’s true—these times really are unprecedented. So to find solace, many people try to find some semblance of precedent to use as a reference for how things will evolve. That’s what the fashion industry has been trying to do as well, looking back on certain events as a comparative tool to forecast what fashion will look like post-pandemic.
Drastic events that affect humanity on a global scale—world wars, depressions—don’t actually instigate changes in fashion themselves, but instead affect the rate of change of trends that were already set in motion. We like to accredit shifts like Christian Dior’s New Look that emerged after WWII to these core-shaking events, but “in almost every case, the change had begun to occur before the world historical event,” says Dr. Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
“For example, if you look at a dress from 1900 and one from 1920, you go, ‘Holy cow, the First World War changed everything!’ Goodbye, corsets. Skirts get shorter. But in fact, you were getting rid of corsets by 1908 and then bras, and we were experimenting with shorter skirts and things. So what happened in the war hurried that up and spread it through society, more than causing something new,” says Steele.
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