When Covid first hit, more women working at home stocked up on the softest, cosiest sweatpants they could find and stayed wrapped up in their comforting embrace for months.
Initially, fashion companies pivoted, churning out casual clothing to meet demand and even endorsing the shift, suggesting it was time for unbridled consumption to end.
“I feel very strongly that when we come out at the other end, people’s values are really going to have shifted,” Vogue editor Anna Wintour said in April 2020. “I think it’s an opportunity for all of us to look at our industry and to look at our lives, and to rethink our values, and to really think about the waste, and the amount of money, and consumption, and excess that we have all indulged in and how we really need to rethink what this industry stands for.”
But as the pandemic has persisted, it has devastated the fashion industry. Consumers have been shopping less and overall spending has declined. As one analyst said, consumers have shifted to inconspicuous spending. That reduced industry revenues by an estimated $640 billion and profits by as much as 90% in 2020.
Horrors! Fashion industry leaders have come to realize that promoting casualness and frugality will kill their businesses. They needed to up their game, to get people to care more about how they looked on Zoom, to buy for when they eventually leave the cocoon of their home office and reemerge in public.
So now the industry is going all out to convince women that the new Zoom-dominated business environment demands they shed their shapeless comfortable loungewear and return to glamorous outfits that will sparkle and shine, reinforce their power and strengthen their social identity.
Some fashion cheerleaders are arguing that ramping up fashion choices is imperative to save fashion company standouts. Others say it’s needed to give people something to focus on that isn’t morbid and depressing or because we need to focus on a future of choices. But what it’s really all about is returning to an environment of conspicuous consumption.
This past weekend, I was struck by a story in the Wall Street Journal that illustrated this new posturing.
“After a dispiriting year of living and working through video, women are investing in fashion and accessories that truly shine on-screen. How to make an impact from the waist up,” the paper announced. “Now, thanks to some combination of optimism, sweatshirt fatigue and longing for a pre-pandemic world, many women are not only getting dressed for Zoom—they’re getting decked out.”
Featured in the story was a model in a $2,470 sweater from Alexander McQueen, a $545 necklace and a $505 choker.
Another recent WSJ story featured a model in a $7,000 jacket (you read that right, $7,000) and $2,000 shirt (you read that right, too, $2,000) all ready for a Zoom session.
The industry isn’t just pushing expensive and extravagant clothes for the homebound. It’s hawking costly skin care treatments that will make women shine on screen. “Go for the glow,” the WSJ said. “A consistent beauty regimen is the secret to a dewy complexion that will radiate on screen,” said the WSJ. Emphatic accessories “help you stand out from all the other tiny squares,” said Jennifer Behr, a New York designer.
Then for the truly insecure, the fashion industry says Zoom-time means it’s time for expensive surgery.
“Zoom is making people notice all of their small imperfections,” New York dermatologist Dendy Engelman explained in the WSJ. “We are used to seeing our faces statically in the mirror, rather than dynamically as we do on video,” added New York plastic surgeon Adam Kolker. Movements and expressions “often demonstrate facial aging more vividly.”
Most popular cosmetic procedures, Kolker added, are “neuromodulators [like Botox] to decrease lines and injectable fillers [like Restylane and Juvederm] to minimize the perception of deeper wrinkles.” For Miami dermatologist Heather Woolery-Lloyd’s patients, Zoom has cast a spotlight on skin-tone and texture issues, which she addresses with chemical peels and microneedling.”
Or women can simply choose to use Zoom’s flattering “Touch Up My Appearance feature” to smooth over their appearance, making them look dewy and well-rested. It costs a lot less.