It was a revealing week with Ralph Lauren reporting worse than expected results for its recent quarter. Store sales plunged by 57% and the company saying it would “rethink its long-term operating structure to align with our evolving strategic priorities… this includes a reassessment of its brand portfolio, distributors and corporate real estate team.” Wow! When “his holiness” Ralph Lauren gets hit — it’s time to take notice.
Then the NYT magazine section published its in-depth business account on Sweatpants Forever: How the Fashion Industry Collapsed. As if the world didn’t already know that no one cares about fashion week anywhere at any time, let alone fashion.
We have been turning to cheap athleisure wear for years, to live a life of more comfort and ease. So, the fashion industry demise has been going on for at least 10 years. The slide came on as it did with the music industry, and now Hollywood.
The recent pandemic put everyone in the sweatpants “shelter-in-place” uniform. And along with the mask, the fashion people jumped onboard hoping to make it “a look.” Neither one will become a “classic,” let alone a “style.” Both are just facts of life … for now anyhow.
I am grateful that NYT writer Irina Aleksander’s recent piece put the whole sinking fashion industry saga together. She included the rise of the “Sweat Suit King” Scott Sternberg with his worldwide explosion of basic cotton tops, bottoms and socks (remember the Gap once did that and is now struggling to stay alive). She mentioned the fall of J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, Brooks Brothers, Penney’s, Ann Taylor, Barneys, seasonal Fashion Shows and on and on and on. It ended with designer Marc Jacobs streaming his feelings of grief last March from the Mercer Hotel wearing full makeup and a string of pearls. He said it all with “This has been a very difficult business to be in for a long time, I think.” He should know!
In the end, Aleksander explained how the fashion business ate itself up and committed suicide with too many shows, too much unsold inventory, too much needless travel and hype, and finally, utter EXHAUSTION! The consumers were turning to cheaper fast-fashion and Instagram. The Fashion Industry forgot that the customers didn’t want Prairie Dresses and expensive carnival clothes (Gucci!).
“Fashion Forward” was losing its power. If the shoppers wanted fashion they went to the Real Real or any vintage store and bought classics for less. As Jacobs said, “We’ve done everything to such excess that there is no consumer for it all. Everyone is exhausted by it. The designers are exhausted by it. The journalists are exhausted from following it … when you’ve tried to produce to produce to produce it’s like having a gun to your head and saying you know, dance monkey!”
Thank you Marc Jacobs for delivering the perfect obit for the Fashion Industry.
The article did include some quotes from Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue and artistic director of Conde Nast. But none of what she said really reflected the entire crash-and-burn of the world in which she was a major leader. She did say, “It really is a time where we need to learn from what’s happened, almost how fragile and on edge we were all living. And it wasn’t solid – certainly the media had something to do with it as everything went so instant through digital and emphasis on what’s new.”
Where that will actually leave Wintour and Conde Nast remains to be seen. Certainly not walking up a Met Gala red carpeted stairway anytime soon.
The upshot is that people just want clothes — not fashion. We all know this! Clothes you can live in, pandemic or no pandemic. Fashion was already going down pre-Covid. It had a bad “pre-existing” condition, and the virus took it all out fast by March.
But the question for the basic shopper still remains. Why shop when I have nowhere to go! We aren’t looking at “occasions” like charity balls or special events or even weddings anymore! Actually, we haven’t been “dressing up” for a long time (though some will, of course, get “dressed” as a ritual experience or practice in self-esteem).
Sweatpants got us through the at-home worst of times. But there are those of us who wouldn’t be caught dead in baggy fleece out of the house — even to shop for toilet paper. I think it’s great that the Wall Street Journal dug up a picture of Ronald Reagan on Air Force One standing in the aisle wearing a simple pair of grey sweatpants with his shirt and tie tucked in! WSJ made that a whole fashion story on the new “Hard Tuck.”
A message to the guys who have been living and loving their UNTUCKit tunic shirts with shirt tails hanging over their baggy cargo pants. But honestly, who is going to do a “Hard Tuck” when the whole point of sweat suit gear (whether it is loose jersey pants, velour jogging pants, Lululemon “joggers” or $400 Ralph Lauren’s cashmere version) is no buttons, no clasps – just expandable waist SO YOU NEVER FEEL FAT!! That is the ultimate message here.
The truth is, I always loved pajamas and live in them … at home. Not out or about. And I don’t want our whole world to devolve into hospital gowns and scrubs, which after Covid might actually happen. The fear of becoming a nation of slobs is now the real epidemic. I forget what designer once said, “wearing sweatpants is a sign of giving up.” It might be. Sure, some athleisure wear came from the gym and working out and showing off your body (and clearly sneakers have become THE footwear for now and forever!). But sweat gear? It will still reek of meatballs and couch potatoes no matter what neon color you choose.
I will miss people saying, “stand up, let me see what you are wearing” (I hardly see people anymore, let alone have them say that to me). The best we can still hope for is that we look “nicely pulled together” (as my mother reminds me) and I don’t mean by an elastic waistband. Remember … quarantine is NOT a look, let alone a way of life. But … comfort is.
Thank God we don’t need fashion weeks or even the designer elites/influencers anymore, we just need ourselves to dictate how we look and feel. And shopping? Maybe it will be online; maybe some actual stores. Who knows? Time will tell. The good news is Covid gave us all a time out to actually look at ourselves, to reset and clean out our closets.
By the way, I went on theentireworld.com for a lavender set of sweats. They have been sold out in my size for three months. No problem! There is always Uniqlo and 100 other outlets who will flood that market and fast. I say we should go back to the $15 Army/Navy store version in honor of “keeping it real.”
In the meantime, here is a sign of hope! The Springfield, Illinois school district has issued a DRESS CODE for students regardless of how classes are held. They are not allowed to wear hats, bandanas, sunglasses, pajamas, flip flops or bedroom slippers in the school building.
“And we don’t need students in pajamas and all those things while on Zoom — no one should be in bed but sitting up at a desk or table — no beds.”
Forget fashion. School dress codes will now lead the way! Hallelujah!