‘The thought of skinny jeans makes me ill!’ Five ways 2020 has changed fashion

Jeans are out; dressing gowns in. These are not the trends anyone would have predicted for the summer of 2020, but then so little has gone according to plan this year. Bras, especially the underwired variety, were among the first items of clothing to be given the heave-ho under lockdown. But they have not been the only fashion casualty – shoes and coats quickly became redundant under the government’s “stay at home” advice. For some, fashion habits have shifted over time – apparently, there are only so many work Zoom calls you can attend in your pyjamas before the novelty wears off. And now, with measures easing, it is becoming clear how our pandemic-inflected sense of style may translate into life in the “new normal”. Here’s how Guardian readers say lockdown has changed the way they dress – perhaps for good.

Goodbye, tailoring

Those who have changed the way they dress most dramatically during lockdown are surely the work-from-home employees (and furloughed staff) who were previously required to adhere to corporate dress codes. Few employers seem to have insisted on this for remote working; a sharp suit or expensive tailoring sits uneasily alongside unwashed dishes and jammy-handed toddlers, after all. Better to just acknowledge that every day is casual Friday.

“I work in financial services, and I am usually based in Canary Wharf,” says Amber. “This means a lot of tailoring: shift dresses, blazers, shirts etc. All of that has gone into storage and I am doing the same job in a pair of trackie bottoms and a vest (or sleeved top for video calls). It is super-comfy and I’m saving a lot on dry cleaning. I’ve also not had to iron anything in months.”

Liz Jones … ‘I may never need to buy jeans again.’
Liz Jones … ‘I may never need to buy jeans again.’ Photograph: Provided by Liz Jones

But, with Boris Johnson pushing for a return to the office in August, is it time to dust off your trouser press? Not necessarily, says Amber. “Lockdown has given me time to think about what I really like wearing, and I’m actually quite excited about starting to shift my wardrobe in that direction.”

She is not the only one who sees the changes inspired by lockdown having a long-term effect. “I’m being sent images of collections for spring/summer 2021, and I’m not convinced that fashion designers have made the pivot that may be needed,” says 49-year-old Nicola Hibon Jackson, who owns two independent lifestyle boutiques in London. “So many clothes are designed for a semi-formal office environment – the tailored jacket, tapered trousers etc – and I’m not convinced that this is what women will be wanting next year.”

The end of jeans?

The demise of denim, specifically jeans, may have initially gone unnoticed. “I put on some skinny jeans a week ago and took them straight off again. Did they always feel so restrictive?” says Amber. After months spent wearing leggings, joggers and long, loose dresses, it is easy to see why tight-fitting clothes in rigid materials may have lost their appeal.

Liz Jones, a 44-year-old editor, has swapped her jeans for her partner’s: “A couple of years ago, I lost a lot of weight. During lockdown, I returned to my more regular weight,” she says. “So I’ve been wearing my partner’s old jeans, which are flattering and more comfortable. I may never need to buy jeans again.”

Similarly, Niamh Egleston, a 25-year-old student, sees jeans as “a relic of the before times” having switched to long, floaty skirts during lockdown. “The thought of vacuum-packing my stomach into a pair of high-waisted skinny jeans makes me ill,” she says.

The fact that jeans were once a wardrobe staple now seems unfathomable to many. In fact, sales of jeans had already been on the wane, partly thanks to the numerous eco-controversies associated with their production. Could Covid consign them to the fashion archive? Not if Diesel has anything to do with it. The denim brand claims its antiviral jeans kill 99% of Covid germs within two hours – although not all experts are convinced.

Niamh Egleston … ‘The thought of skinny jeans makes me ill.’
Niamh Egleston … ‘The thought of skinny jeans makes me ill.’ Photograph: Provided by Niamh Egleston

The new rules of beauty

It is not just our clothes that have been given a lockdown overhaul – many of us have used the time away from social engagements to make changes to our hair and makeup routines. “Just before lockdown, my two eldest grandchildren suggested I let my hair go grey – good advice, as it turned out,” says one retired teacher, Julie. “My stylist lightened my hair to blend with my roots a few days before she closed, so it was good timing.”

With hairdressers having been shut until recently, Jones has also been making changes to her look. “I’ve been wearing headscarves to cover my hair as it grows out,” she says. “I’m in no hurry to have a proper haircut, although we trimmed the back, and may persist with the scarves even when my hair is longer.”

For many women, who are still charged considerably more than men in some salons, not being able to book appointments has been a blessing and a curse. “I’ve really enjoyed not spending ridiculous amounts on haircuts and salon hair colour,” says 42-year-old Lucy Matthews. “I have only really missed not getting my eyebrows shaped … neat eyebrows seem even more important with face masks now!”

For some, putting on the makeup they would usually wear has been key to maintaining a feeling of normality, while others have relished the opportunity to go bare-faced. “I’m loving being so comfortable and skipping makeup – I’ve only worn it three times since mid-March,” says Heena, a 35-year-old NHS worker. “I feel I’ve broken the tyrannical shackles of the patriarchy, and some changes are permanent. I’m done with waxing or otherwise grooming my eyebrows. I was born with a perfect pair, and the world has to accept them.”

Staying in is the new going out

Contrary to reports that loungewear reigned supreme during lockdown, plenty of people have been getting dressed up to stay home. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed dressing up for Zoom meetings with friends and going all out on Saturday nights for our romantic dinner for two,” says Julie. “I’ve been self-isolating for 17 weeks and we’ve not eaten the same meal twice nor worn the same outfit twice on Saturday nights. Unbelievable, as I’m definitely the sort of person who looks in the wardrobe and thinks I’ve got nothing to wear!”

Josh Van Gelder, a 51-year-old photographer based in London, turned his penchant for clothes into a creative project. “I have a huge collection of vintage clothes, so thought it would be fun to see if I could wear a different outfit every day for the duration of the lockdown,” he says. “Clothes can be such an expression of how you’re feeling, so by making the effort to dress up, it automatically gave me a boost.”

Josh Van Gelder … ‘Making the effort to dress up automatically gave me a boost.’
Josh Van Gelder … ‘Making the effort to dress up automatically gave me a boost.’ Photograph: Provided by Josh Van Gelder

So-called dopamine dressing – the idea that colourful clothes can help brighten dark days – has also proved popular during lockdown. “Spending more time in nature – one good thing that has come out of lockdown – has encouraged me to embrace colours,” says Charlotte, a 25-year-old arts administrator.

Ivan Berazhny, a 42-year-old university lecturer, has had a similar experience: “Before lockdown, I preferred neutral, conservative clothing in the office and at home,” he says, but recently he has switched to wearing bolder, brighter colours, “more white, floral, and art-patterned clothes”. It’s a change he believes will continue beyond lockdown. “The new choices keep me happier, lift my mood, and inspire the mundane routines,” he says.

A shift in shopping

Long-term, perhaps the biggest change will not be to what we wear, but how we shop. Fashion is notoriously bad for the planet: the industry is responsible for 10% of total global carbon dioxide emissions every year. With bricks-and-mortar retail closed throughout much of lockdown, we have been forced into doing something many of us have long been committed to in theory, if not always in practice: avoiding fast fashion and “shopping” from our own wardrobes.

“Shopping for clothes used to be a treat,” says 53-year-old Anne, who works for a charity. “The area where I worked had loads of clothes shops and I used to go out to browse at lunchtime. Shopping is now a chore and I’d rather treat myself in other ways, such as spending more on food or wine. After not going out much for months, I have realised that there are items of clothing that I haven’t worn at all this year, which has made me think I don’t need so many.”

The musician and actor Annie Grace agrees: “I like wearing something ‘new’, even though it may be 10 years old or more, and I’ve enjoyed the comments from friends about the change of style. I don’t need to shop for clothes for the foreseeable future – I already have too many.” Similarly, Sabà Thabit, a 24-year-older blogger and translator from Tunisia, has learned to love her lockdown look. “I used to care so much if people thought I wasn’t putting enough effort into my looks,” she says, “but isolation made me reconnect with myself and I’m feeling more comfortable inside and out.”

Annie Grace … ‘I don’t need to shop for clothes for the foreseeable future – I already have too many.’
Annie Grace … ‘I don’t need to shop for clothes for the foreseeable future – I already have too many.’ Photograph: Provided by Annie Grace

Trend forecaster Li Edelkoort called this change in spending habits a “quarantine on consumption”, predicting that we would “learn how to be happy just with a simple dress, rediscovering old favourites we own” – an experience borne out by many over the past few months.

“I think the silver lining of lockdown has been that people have been forced to go through the clothing they already own,” says the London-based gin expert Nicolle Smith. “We’ve all discovered our ‘capsule wardrobe’. I realised I had enough clothes and that, with the exception of a few things like running shoes and underwear, I wouldn’t miss shopping or fashion if the big stores and the high street became a thing of the past.”

The pandemic has drawn attention to allegations over unfit working conditions – with claims that staff had their health put at risk by working through lockdown – at some factories in Leicester which, it was claimed, supply fast fashion brands such as Boohoo. Although most online outlets have continued to trade during the pandemic, these allegations may have also encouraged those who have continued to shop to think more carefully about where they take their custom. Boohoo has launched an investigation, and said it was not responsible for the issues at the supply factories.

“I’ve tried to experiment with my existing wardrobe, and have hardly bought anything new,” says student Rebecca Hitchon. It’s a change that she sees continuing as the lockdown begins to ease. “Even when the shops reopened, I didn’t enjoy it like I used to, as it seemed so stressful. I would rather spend more money buying better clothes every once in a while; items that will last and that will have less of a harmful impact on the environment and people.”

It is a sentiment shared by many, including Hil G, a graphic designer based in Ireland. “In the past, I have made hasty purchases – it’s very easy to just add items to a virtual cart and checkout without standing in a queue!” she says. “But now I’m more particular about what I purchase. It has strengthened my love for clothes that are well made and sustainably sourced. From now on, I’d like to buy clothes that I will want to keep for ever.”

Some names have been changed