While some epidemiologists might have predicted that the “must-have” accessory of 2020 would be a mask, it was a curveball for the rest of us. They were rapidly normalised (in the West) and given the inevitable fashion spin: Louis Vuitton has a mask and bandana set for £350, and Burberry has introduced £90 versions made from excess fabric in its signature check. There was a backlash against an early designer version by Off-White (£70), but British designers such as Christopher Kane showed grace under pressure: he offered to send out free patterns and fabric so people could make their own. They were also used to convey political statements. At the US Open in September, tennis player Naomi Osaka wore seven different masks printed with the names of black people who have been victims of racial injustice, including Breonna Taylor.
Costume designer Lorna Mugan never imagined that Normal People, the hit Netflix adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel, would become the breakout costume drama of lockdown No. 1. Nor that the cheap silver chain Connell (played by Paul Mescal) wears around his neck — often with little else — would amass a dedicated Instagram account with 179,000 followers and lead brands to rush out dozens of copycat versions. Of its power, Mugan told the FT: “It’s a class signifier, wearing a chain like that. If you’re not saying very much, then that’s saying a lot.”
Thanks to homeworking and dismal social lives, sweatpants are now the sine qua non of our everyday existence. David Morris, buying manager at the luxury men’s e-tailer Mr Porter, says sales of joggers have grown by almost two-thirds at the brand in 2020 compared with last year, with shoppers snapping up versions from Fear of God, Brunello Cucinelli, Tom Ford and Nike. While there are various tracksuit tribes (influencers and celebrities in tie-dye, organic cotton Pangaia co-ords for the climate-conscious, and the now-grounded jet-set in cashmere Loro Piana), the bottom line is that sweats are here to stay.
Classic, clean and unobtrusive, white shirts are often worn by business executives to convey “unshowy competence” and deflect criticism, former British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman noted in an essay earlier this year. But the billowy, creased, ill-fitting number former government adviser Dominic Cummings wore to a May press conference, where he denied allegations that he had violated nationwide lockdown rules, had just the opposite effect — showing a contempt for social rules that mirrored his alleged contempt of the law.
For her stirring speech on the first night of the Democratic National Convention in August, former first lady Michelle Obama wore a gold necklace spelling out the word “Vote”. It was a neat accessory to her message, “if we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.” According to Google Trends, the necklace became the top trending search on all of US Google in the last hour of the event. The custom-made necklace was designed by Los Angeles-based, Jamaica-born designer Chari Cuthbert, who told Forbes the brand had “a massive influx of orders” after Obama’s address.
With few red-carpet gowns to swoon over this year, the most inspiring pop-cultural clothing came from musicians. Harry Styles graced the front of US Vogue in a dress, and Lady Gaga wore a sound-reactive light-up mask to the VMAs. Beyoncé delivered a fashion feast with her Black Is King film in which she wore a moon-print bodysuit by French rising star Marine Serre. Global fashion search engine Lyst reported that searches for “Marine Serre crescent moon print” rose 426 per cent in the 48 hours after the visual album’s release.
It was a bad year for most shoemakers, but not for Birkenstock — despite supply chain disruptions, the company surpassed its 2019 sales figures in the first 10 months of the year, chief executive Oliver Reichert told Footwear News. The German brand’s Arizona sandals became the de facto shoe of the first lockdown wave, photographed on Reese Witherspoon, with searches for the sandal spiking 225 per cent in the second quarter, according to Lyst.
As with Madeleine Albright and her pins, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg well understood the power of a statement accessory. So emblematic were Ginsburg’s snowy white collars and spiky necklaces — she wore specific ones to telegraph approval or dissent of a ruling — that when The New Yorker magazine ran a tribute cover the week of her death, it printed only a white collar on a black page.
When Kamala Harris wore a white trouser suit and blouse for her first speech as vice president-elect in November, she was tapping into powerful historical symbolism. White was one of three colours favoured by the Suffragette movement, and had been worn by Shirley Chisholm when she became the first African-American woman elected to Congress in 1968, as well as by Hillary Clinton, who wore a white trouser suit to accept the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. It was also worn by Democratic congresswomen at several of Trump’s public addresses.
Suit sales were already declining prior to the pandemic, and this year — with few feeling the need to don a jacket or knot a tie for Zoom meetings — the category took an even greater hit. Sales of men’s suits declined 45 per cent in the UK and 24 per cent in the US between 2019 and 2020, according to Euromonitor International, and while a modest recovery is forecast for 2021, suit sales might never reach pre-pandemic levels again.
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