With online sales booming but retail in sharp decline, the pandemic has changed shopping for ever. Practical, comfortable items suitable for a lifestyle of working from home and occasional trips outside – such as Ugg boots, Crocs and trousers with elasticated waistbands – have seen rising sales.
But with many of us grappling with our emotions during lockdown, the way we feel and speak about our clothes has altered too.
Last week, two new words were coined to describe our new attitude to fashion; portmanteaus that articulate the stresses and mundanity of lockdown, but also the changing relationship we have with our clothes.
The New York Times’s “hate-wear” refers to clothes that are “neither stylish nor particularly comfortable, yet constantly in rotation”, items worn for their utility rather than their style.
“Not knowing how to dress is the least of anyone’s problems,” says the NYT writer Reyhan Harmanci, “but we still do (mostly) have to put on clothes. For those of us who now work from home, that has resulted in some weird choices.”
Examples in the article include a sweater with holes in, jogging bottoms in the wrong size and a jumper worn so regularly it “suddenly became a symbol of stress and sadness”. You could argue that Nancy Pelosi wearing the exact same dress for Trump’s second impeachment vote or Matt Hancock’s zipped, gilet-like top, worn during visits to Covid vaccination centres, were sartorial symbols of “stress and sadness”.
Esquire, meanwhile, came up with the term “sadwear”, “our collective term for clothes that make us feel better when we’re sad, specifically born out of the existential ennui of lockdown”, according to Charlie Teasdale, the magazine’s style director.
The list of “comfort-blanket” clothing included pyjamas, hoodies and, of course, jogging bottoms (ideally with a matching hoodie). But it could, equally, encompass something unexpected or luxurious, depending on how it makes the wearer feel.
Celebrities mirrored this trend, with Harry Styles being photographed in a dressing gown (Marks & Spencer reported a fivefold increase in nightwear sales over the pandemic period), Justin Bieber in an ill-fitting sweatshirt and Jared Leto in a beanie. “It might be a stupid hat or novelty jumper or even a pair of joggers that feel great, but are laughably unflattering,” said Teasdale.
According to Teasdale, these words are part of a new lexicon, articulating the “various sartorial sticking plasters people can employ to alleviate the gloom.” He concedes, though, that sadwear “could never really compete with succour of a night at the pub”.