The OTT silhouettes from fall/winter 2020 that now seem more relevant than ever
“Don’t stand so close to me”
I remember thinking to myself when I saw the gossamer daffodil yellow tulle frock that expanded like a multi-tiered butter cake into a gargantuan-sized skirt from Molly Godard's fall/winter 2020 collection: "The number of dirty looks I'd get from wearing this into the MRT would probably shame me into oblivion." The copious ballgown-like dress looked as though it could swallow a person whole in a flood of frothy tulle if they didn't go out of their way to avoid it. I gave it my personal verdict which stamped: "Pretty, but impractical".
I suppose I lack the gift of foresight, because here we stand today, and the concept of wearing a garment that takes up space is no longer as (figuratively) absurd as I once thought.
Social media has led me to uncover a string of grade-A content that feature unsuspecting, everyday people taking to the streets of New York in full-on beekeeping suits, scuba diving gear, and human-sized plastic hamster balls as a means to practice social distancing. While exaggerated, the gear was necessary, as the city's shortage of medical grade personal protective equipment meant that civillians had to find all sorts of ways to protect themselves, regardless of how ridiculous they might look.
These extreme measures of self-protection made me pause to think about some of the other collections put forth by designers during the fall/winter 2020 presentations, and the uncanny relevance that they might have now.
The dresses that closed the show at Area were the kind that mandated you to walk through a door sideways, sporting exaggerated heart-shaped structures around the hips and shoulders. Voluminous proportions were also seen at JW Anderson, where supersized coats with leather-panelled shawl collars commanded a dominating presence that echoed, "Keep away (maybe even the recommended 1.5metres away?) from my personal space". At Maison Margiela, beekeeping veils and face masks constructed from wispy fabrics punched with holes were like impregnable barriers that kept the wearer safe (strictly a figure of speech, please do not try this at home).
The prevalence of outre, space-consuming fashion resonates so much more with social distancing in the picture. Though no designer, no matter how in sync they are with the zeitgeist, could have predicted the onset of such a catastrophic event back then, it's interesting to look back and grasp just how on the nose fashion can be at reflecting the spirit of the times.
The historical relationship between fashion and protection
In the words of The Police, "Don't stand so close to me!" (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Perhaps no silhouette is as over-the-top as the ones popular during the Victorian era. Crinolines, the structured underpinnings worn under the voluminous skirts of women, were prevalent back in the mid-18th century. Satirical cartoonists back then joked that crinolines served to maintain decorum by enforcing a socially acceptable amount of distance between genders during social gatherings. It was implied that the broad hoop skirts increased the perimeter of a woman's personal space, which prevented male suitors from getting too close to a woman's body.
Fashion's role in providing protection in the face of a threat can be observed in the early 19th century when women secured their hats with elaborate, decorative pins with needles over ten inches long. It was common then in the United States for women to pull out their hatpins as a measure of self-defense, stabbing predators who threatened their safety — talk about badassery!
Safety also transpired in a more emblematic sense post-9/11, when Norma Kamali's "Sleeping Bag Coats" spiked in demand. According to Kamali, the puffer down coats resonated with customers as it provided a sense of comfort and security during stressful times.
Are face masks the It-accessory of 2020?
What bears the most relevance to the plight of the current situation transpired amid the 1918 flu pandemic. Style-conscious women wore chiffon or lace veils as a — in hindsight, ineffective — means of preventing the spread of pathogens. Today, face masks once again play a central role in many of our daily lives. Many brands have even prepositioned stylish reusable masks as a way for us to practice social responsibility while expressing ourselves.
Protective face masks may stand to be more commonplace than the massive silhouettes seen on the recent runways. By way of comparison, you're more likely to see them at the grocery store, 'nuff said. But visually, the latter is more impactful. What says "back it up" better than a gown with big bulbous shoulders and an architectural dome skirt ala Commes des Garcon? As it stands, I've got zilch.