How are people dressing when in lockdown and isolation situations? How is this different to the way they dressed before? Has it affected their sense of self? This project aims to shine a light on those changes and reveal some of the many and varied personal stories relating to fashion and dress in 2020. Today’s interview is with Elizabeth Kutesko. She is a Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Central Saint Martins, across the Fashion, Textile and Jewellery programmes. “My research, writing and lecturing explores fashion as a transnational form of modernity, which ties together geography – telling stories of the land; nationality – telling stories of the nation; and identity – telling stories of the self. My book is titled Fashioning Brazil: Globalization and the Representation of Brazilian Dress in National Geographic (Bloomsbury 2018).” You can find her on Instagram as @elizabeth_kutesko.
1) Can you describe what your personal style was like before lockdown?
I cycle most places in London so probably a colourful dress from Whistles worn with sneakers and a loose jacket. It has to be something that can move easily from day to evening, since I’d never change before drinks. I love tactile fabrics – cord, velvet, cashmere, silk – in Autumn and Winter, where the sensory experience of wearing them becomes part of the appeal, and colour, colour, colour in Spring and Summer. Dresses are my failsafe because it minimises the potential for getting it wrong. I browse Browns for daft items like cat-shaped handbags, glitter disco shoes, overpriced hairclips and impractical velvet pumps. If I’m not cycling, heeled boots for some elevation.
2) How would you describe your style now?
It has changed very little. I’m still cycling most days in a quest to remain recognisable once we’re released. I have to be dressed with a coffee to begin my day. This stems from the last three months of writing my PhD in 2015, a dusky period dominated by unwashed hair, morning G+Ts and nightwear worn as daywear. Getting dressed keeps me focused, so it fulfils an ever more vital role in lockdown. My style has become more elaborate if anything – with additional outfit changes for the evening. We are all looking for new activities to fill our shifting perception of time, after all. Fashion is about process for me, not just the finished product. I enjoy the activity of getting dressed. I’m pulling old things from the wardrobe and finding new ways to wear them. It’s a shame my audience consists solely of a husband and cat, both equally apathetic.
3) What are the social situations you find yourself in now (even if remotely), and how do you dress for them?
My social interaction beyond the home is now 30% the Turkish corner shop and 70% friends/colleagues mediated through a pixelated digital screen. I’ve been met with a few appreciative comments whilst shopping, but closer to indignation from friends on Houseparty, who retort ‘oh, you’ve dressed up, you’re even wearing make-up!’. I maintain my usual mode of dress regardless – red lipstick, bright-ish colours and sneakers (though nobody sees those). I do wish some of my students would maintain a similar air of professionalism when I teach them remotely via Zoom. I don’t want to see in your slinky nightwear, and I notice when you slyly disappear to tidy up during group discussion.
4) Thinking back through what you have worn since you’ve been staying at home, what has been your favourite item of clothing and why?
Velvet sliders worn with sparkly socks, silk dress and lilac cashmere sweater in the evening. I don’t think I’d ever wear the former in public. It’s a delight to swan around in them in the privacy of home.
5) Has your self-perception changed in isolation? How so?
At the moment, my sartorial habits are not starkly different from the norm, so my self-perception is still relatively intact. I’m certainly paying more attention to the items that already exist in my wardrobe, rather than casting a flighty gaze on new curiosities. It springs to mind Kate Fletcher’s discussion of re-wear and re-use, and I hope it marks a paradigm shift in my habits once this is over. My only real regret is my swim bag, now shoved at the bottom of my wardrobe. I don’t think it will be getting an outing for quite some time. As time marches on, I expect I’ll become more acutely aware of the physical repercussions of that.
If you’d like to take part in the project yourself, you can find all the information you need in the blog post entitled ‘Lockdown Fashion: an exploration of dressing at home in 2020‘ dated 9th April 2020.