Remember the ‘80s fashion style, when wide-shouldered blazers and tailored suits mean authority, credibility and strength? This was when the term “power dressing” gained popularity, referred to in America as a result of visual sociology, where fashion operates in the relationship between social systems and the negotiation of power. Heavily-padded shoulders and sober-colored knee-length skirts defined the working women of contemporary society.
As decades passed, and women started to establish their undeniable power in their work environments — and in politics — the fashion style evolved into something much lighter, more feminine. The evolution of power dressing, one could say, has gone hand in hand with the progress of gender equality. From the strictly tailored business suit-classy heels ensemble to the now soft shoulders and more sensual fabrics and cuts, corporate fashion is not anymore solely about power and confidence, but also about personal style and self expression.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing lockdowns and working from home set-ups, dressing up has taken on another form. Many are now opting for comfortable hoodies as they sit with their laptops in bedside tables (or even in beds). Afterall, it would be too much of an effort to put on a formal dress and a blazer when you’re just at home. People would say that what’s giving them comfort makes them feel empowered and productive. Now that’s hard to argue. But the privilege of wearing whatever we want, be it sweatpants or a onesie, has taken a harsh toll on the fashion industry, especially on corporate wear retailers. Many brands are struggling to sustain their operations, while some have already declared bankruptcies.
And since nobody really knows when the world would return to normalcy, there’s also no telling how the fashion industry — or power dressing — would further evolve. Whether people would stick to their new work wardrobes of PJS and oversized shirts or wear that almost-forgotten suit jackets (and wide brim hats, if you want to be fancy) back, fashion, as we know it, has forever been redefined.
To know more about fashion and the psychology behind it, as well as the impact of the health crisis on the industry and why “dressing well” matters, Vietcetera spoke with renowned designer and founder of Kilomet109, Thao Vu.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected the fashion industry?
It is not only affecting the fashion industry but also changed the whole landscape of the global apparel industry from production level to retail through fashion media. Travel restrictions have limited the need for clothing. Time at home also helps consumers think more about their needs and shopping habits. They become more conscious, more selective. The new generation of consumers want their shopping behavior to reach beyond just being beautiful, or trendy. They want their support for fashion to add value to society and the environment.
The pandemic has accelerated the decline of mass-produced fashion and reinforced the centrality of sustainable design ideas. We have seen a series of multinational fashion house chains close temporarily or indefinitely. Putting the mass produced fashion in a very challenging time. The pandemic on the other hand is like a springboard for some current social movements such as No Buy and Who Made My Clothes. Therefore, sustainable design ideas are strengthening their position.
With people doing most of their work at home, has sales of formal/corporate attires gone down?
Sure! Like I said above. In less than two years we have seen a series of retail systems of many global fashion brands shut down. Several brands have declared bankruptcy. Small brands like mine wobble too. Sudden decrease in revenue. However, like experiencing an earthquake, if the house's foundation is carefully made, using durable materials, the house can still stand, or can be repaired.
What is the future of corporate fashion?
It will definitely be kinder. Overconsumption and overproduction will be replaced by responsible consumption and responsible production. That means adopting eco-friendly and human-friendly processes will be mandatory. Production transparency will be a measure of the brand's dignity. And the pressure on transparency will come from the consumers themselves, not from the fashion leaders, trendsetters nor fashionistas. Transparency will decide the fate of brands.
What's the psychology behind dressing up and dressing well?
Hmm...These two phrases mean almost the same thing. For me personally, dressing up interprets an action, a habit with fashion, but it does not determine the aesthetic while dressing well does that. One is more about fashion and the other is more about style. However, we don’t have to spend a wedge on fashion every month to look stylish. And there’s no such thing as “out of trend” anymore. True style has never been about that. It’s about you – your individual.
What is the importance of dressing up at work?
Dressing up is FUN in any environment for work or play. It brings energy, emotion. The working environment is about professionalism, seriousness, and refinement. Therefore, fashion plays a very important role to create an effective and productive working space. Dressing well at work also makes our daily lives more colorful like day & night. It helps us enrich our lifestyle. Just think, if we only wear one pajamas from home to work, the motivation to devote must be tedious.
How can women mix up fashion, comfort and professionalism in the way they dress up?
Personal style is still at the core of fashion coordination. And it doesn't have to be expensive to do it. To me, you only need to invest in a few key fashion products that are high quality and timeless. If you must wear a uniform then try to choose products made of natural materials, highly practical and carefully crafted. You can style up those outfits by combining them with accessories. And don’t forget you dress the clothes not the clothes dress you.
What's your fashion motto?
I like to wear and design clothes that have certain connections: connect with the culture where I live, with my own personality. Fashion is also a narrative about people, society in the past, present and future. It indirectly conveys messages about lifestyle, aesthetic thinking, and political views. So if you don't care at all about fashion and not take advantage of it, that's a waste.