The museum boasts one of the best costume collections in the south-west, so it seems a natural place to pause and reflect with a lockdown lens. Most of the time we have costumes on display, so it was particularly strange to see the museum in lockdown with all of the costumes tucked away. Even the mannequins (poorly socially distanced!) were rafted up in a corner of the store. In many of our exhibitions we use costumes and fashion trends to illustrate particular aspects of social history or to help tell a story. Costumes were central in the Fictious Cornwall exhibition, and the Cornish Springtime that the coronavirus brought to a premature halt. In thinking about what we wore, this blog is, therefore in part future-looking: what clothing would represent life in Lockdown?
In lockdown, of course the media came up with suitable labels, ‘bin chic’ or ‘slob style’, meaning that the fashion-conscious of the nation developed a way of dressing that was for the sofa as well as short walk to the local shop. It was fashion that reflected, well… not going anywhere. Clothes that were simply comfy. Work boots went unworn, office outfits cast to the back of the wardrobe. Enter leggings and elasticated waistbands. As colleagues moved to online meetings, people realised that it was the ‘top half’ that mattered. You could sit in your pyjama bottoms styled with a nice shirt. Women started to collect more ‘statement’ pieces of jewellery. I know I migrated to bigger and bigger earrings (think more 1980s), but that was to distract from my lockdown wild-woman hair. The Guardian commented that if you saw someone leaving the house in anything glamourous, that raised suspicion. Perhaps that was true in London, it didn’t ring true for me here in Cornwall. A mannequin dressed for a lockdown exhibition therefore might need to be styled with – pyjama bottoms, a nice fluid, patterned top, and a large necklace. Who could have predicted that?
As we look towards the future, an interesting, wider, question emerges. Has lockdown changed the way we dress or our attitude to fashion? Early articles in the media suggest that we might well have changed. We might become more casual in our choices, with more fluid lines, embracing the elasticated waistband. There would be less structure in the tailoring, with fabric choices that are more tactile. With the fast-fashion shops, like ‘Primarni’ closed, and a nose-diving economy, we started making different purchasing decisions. Less of the throw-away clothes, but buying better quality items. There is also a suggestion of looking at the label more and making more conscious purchases. It might mean supporting local brands and buying from more ethical manufacturers. Sweatshops are a way of keeping fashion cheap, but it seems that Leicester’s ‘dark factories’ may have contributed to the spike in coronavirus numbers that resulted in its recent tightening of lockdown measures. It really is a case of buyer beware. Lockdown has given us all time to pause and think. It seems that the fashion industry is no different.
Citizen Curator Volunteer.