Dress in a Time of Crisis

On 27th August 2020, I gave a presentation at an academic event entitled Dress in a Time of Crisis, organised by the Dress in Context Research Centre at Birmingham City University. The event took place entirely online, and I was invited to present by the event’s organiser, Dr Anne Boultwood. My talk explored three key themes which emerged from the Lockdown Clothing project, and slotted nicely into an afternoon programme which covered a variety of aspects of style and dress in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. The event aimed to cover these topics:

The current pandemic has disrupted many aspects of our lives, not least that of dress. As we adapt to working from home and virtual socialising, casual dress has become the norm, and online shopping has reflected the need for tops rather than bottoms. While personal style has evolved to meet these new conditions, will athleisure be the new dressing up, or will there be a fashion backlash with more emphasis on tailoring and high heels? Lockdown has resulted in a greater awareness of climate issues, including the damage inflicted by the fashion industry. But will calls for greater sustainability cause more suffering to already impoverished workers?

Fashion has always responded to changes in society, and crises like the present one have typically had an impact on the way we dress. As in previous pandemics, the wearing of masks has become widespread, and the irony of their imposition at a time when face coverings have been banned in several countries, highlights the ambivalence traditionally felt towards them. Our present situation may tell us more than how we are responding now, but could perhaps provide an insight into the broader significance of dress in a time of crisis.

The afternoon began with a keynote presentation on the history of dress and textiles as vectors for transmitting disease, moving on to three shorter presentations – I was up first, then we heard about sustainability in the fashion industry post-Covid, and the developmental stages of style during lockdown. Finally, after some fascinating breakout discussions, the event ended with a keynote on the history and theory of masking. It was a highly engaging event which was enjoyed by all who attended, and I’m already looking forward to the 2021 conference!

Recordings of all of the presentations are now available on the event’s page, and I have also embedded the video of mine below. Many thanks to the organising committee for all their hard work in putting such a fantastic event together in such a short space of time.

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