‘casual never means careless’

Reading the February issue of Australian Vogue this morning, I came across an article by Alice Birrell, ‘Business or leisure’.

In it, Ms Birrell takes a peek inside the post-pandemic wardrobe and what the experts predict we will be wearing as we begin to emerge from our home offices and head back to the office, whether on a full-time basis or part-time – a fusion of working from home some days and in the office on others.

What I found fascinating, and admittedly something I had never really considered, is how historical change and world events have shaped what we wear to work – the working wardrobe.

In her article, Ms Birrell quotes Senior Curator of Fashion at the London’s Victorian Albert Museum, Sonnet Stanfill, who says:

“What we will choose to wear when we return to the office is not frivolous speculation but economically impactful.”

According to Ms Birrell, Ms Stanfill “knows, the designers who address our epoch-specific sartorial conundrums will flourish, the styles that find synergy with our lives [will] find a firm foothold in our wardrobes”.

This reminds me of the infamous line from the 2006 movie, The Devil Wears Prada, when Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) says:

“ ‘This stuff?’ Oh, okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select … I don’t know … that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back.
“But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean.
“And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent … wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets?
“ … And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin.
“However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.”

Fashion is a business. And like other big business, it is shaped by global events.

It’s fascinating to see how historical events have shaped our wardrobes, as Ms Birrell explains: “Historically, where work patterns shifted, the wardrobe went, too.”

From World Wars, which “pushed women into men’s work”, leading to the need for wardrobes that provided “utility and ease of movement” rather than “ornamentation”, to Donna Karan’s Seven Easy Pieces, “the famous 1985 capsule wardrobe engineered to make dressing the busy woman quicker and easier”, what we wear to work is influenced not just by what’s often seen as the frivolous world of fashion – and a “pile of stuff” – but by global world events that shape society and create societal change.

So, with Zoom meetings likely to remain a permanent fixture of our working lives and with many of us combining working from the office with working remotely, what does that mean for our work wardrobe?

Ms Birrell writes that while, after months of lockdown, many of us will want to “get dressed up again and [have] fun” with our wardrobe choices – “people will embrace what they have been denied” ­– for the most part, key trends are likely to be duality and simplicity, “a blend of polish and practicality”.

She writes that the period of reflection that 2020 afforded, will mean that our wardrobe purchases will be “especially considered”, and according to Founder and CEO of Threads Styling, Sophie Hill who is quoted in the article, we will be looking for “pieces with longevity, that are investments and trans-seasonal”.

Interestingly, it’s predicted that we will also have a “desire for self-assertion” through the way we dress and in the era of Zoom calls combined with working in the office, we will need to dress “for both the room and the screen”.

Ms Birrell writes that, according to Ms Stanfill, from London’s Victorian Albert Museum, “however we emerge, our historical moment will be defined by a working wardrobe that allows ultimate flexibility and choice”.

“Fashioning oneself is an optimistic act … so choose what you will – with a word of sartorial warning.

“As we exit a period of crisis … it is useful to consider the advice of American designer Claire McCardell, who cautioned: ‘Casual never means careless’,” Ms Stanfill is quoted as saying.

Fascinating! I, for one, am all for these predictions. I’m all for timeless classics, investment pieces that last multiple seasons. I’m all for asserting oneself through quality pieces rather than the latest, celebrity trends that are here one minute and gone the next. I’m behind the considered casual. And to me, it’s incredibly interesting to learn how global events have shaped what we wear and how they continue to do so. Fashion is more than just frivolous “stuff”. 

x G.


Feature image: Francesca Zama from Pexels.

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