How The Coronavirus Could Shape Fashion Choices

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NPR’s Michel Martin talks with fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell about how Covid-19 could change people’s style choices.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now, we don’t want to assume too much, but it’s probably safe to say that you’ve been wearing sweatpants a lot more lately – or if not, leggings, maybe. Or perhaps you’ve customized your own facemask. For many of us, these statewide stay-at-home orders have influenced how we dress, how we think about clothes.

And that got us thinking about how this historic moment might shape the future of what we wear, so we’ve called Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell to help us think about this. She’s a fashion historian and author of “Worn On This Day: The Clothes That Made History.” And Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is with us now.

Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

KIMBERLY CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: So you were recently quoted in the online publication Quartz saying that the biggest changes in fashion actually don’t come from trends. They come from big societal disruptions like wars.

CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Yes. Well, the French Revolution, for example, did away with a lot of the over-the-top fashions associated with the old regime – hair powder, hoop petticoats, lace. Anything associated with the aristocracy – that was all gone, and that was a political change as well as a fashion change.

MARTIN: How about World War II? How did that change the way people dress?

CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Well, after the extreme deprivations of World War II, when things like food and clothing were rationed and were really hard to get because so much production was going towards the war effort, people went in the opposite direction. And Dior’s new look brought in a fashion for very long skirts and corset waists and very over-the-top fashions that would not have been available or politically correct during the war.

MARTIN: Well, how about the current moment? What are the trends that you think might come out of this moment?

CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: One of the first things that I sort of predicted happening was the same thing that happened during World War I, which is beards are going out of style. And, in fact, very early on in this pandemic, the CDC issued guidelines for things like beards and fingernails because those can be vectors of the virus, but they can also interfere with your protective gear. For example, it’s hard to wear latex gloves over long fingernails. It’s hard to put a face mask or a breathing device over a beard.

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