The post-Covid summer is in full swing. Weddings, race meetings, festivals and other social occasions are back with a bang, along with the need to dress up for them. After nearly two years of comfy house garments and sartorial limitations, the leggings and hoodies have finally been pushed to the back of the wardrobe.
But has the prolonged hibernation during the pandemic affected our style on a fundamental level? We spoke to style advisers, buyers and women of varying ages who love clothes about what they are wearing now. All agreed that the pandemic changed the way they dress, and that there’s been a shift in mood when it comes to style, even as our social lives resume and workplaces continue to open up.
“During the pandemic, all people wanted was joggers, jeans, cashmere and trainers, but there are more events now and a lot of demand for dresses again,” says buyer Clodagh Shorten of Samui in Cork, who marks 21 years in business this year .
“People are dressing differently, not wearing formal suits, not looking so official and wearing perhaps a blazer with chinos to work instead,” she says, and high heels “are only for occasions, as the trainer is still winning”.
She thinks people have become more playful — “short skirts are selling, and not all to young people” — and overall, looks are more relaxed, even for special occasions such as weddings.
“Even the mother of the bride is looking for something she can wear again, looking for investment pieces,” she says.
With offices starting to slowly reopen, dressing for work is “a trip wire” for a lot of people, says Clara Halpin, deputy director of private and personal shopping at Kildare Village.
“Since you spend a lot of time at work, it’s important to feel well and confident — many women lost their confidence being at home.”
Hybrid working — sometimes in the office, sometimes at home — has its own sartorial challenges, too. “People are really struggling with the concept,” she says.
Many office workers still have their suits in storage, but “a great blazer, well-cut trousers and a lovely top are [still] very important, particularly on Zoom where block colors work well,” suggests Halpin. “Blue is a color that I always recommend.”
Texture has become more important to customers, she says, “because people have got used to enjoying the comfort and cocooning, they are now really drawn to luxurious fabrics”.
As owner of The Style Bob consultancy, Aoife Dunican has been spending much of her time recently giving talks to corporate clients entitled, What do I wear now and does it matter?
Smart casual is the new dress code at work, she says, even for law firms. “It is certainly more relaxed, and there is more self-expression; diversity and inclusion are big in companies now. Where a pinstripe suit might once have been the rule, now it’s a navy dress with statement jewellery,” she says.
“People are dressing up again, but comfort is going nowhere. I certainly never thought I would have a trainer collection.”
Buyers and designers are responding to this desire for more casual and comfortable work attire. Deborah Veale, who has much experience designing corporate wear for women, admits that she too is “struggling to get out of elasticated waists”, but “we are slowly going back towards tailoring, because it is so empowering”.
Her new diffusion line mixes tailoring with jersey, which is more relaxed and fluid. She is working on a project updating familiar staples such as biker jackets and trench coats with detailing such as leather trims and buckles. “It’s workwear, not casual,” she says.
Color consultant Maria Macklin says reducing consumption and shopping mindfully are other lessons learned during lockdown. “Always buy clothes that you will wear over and over again and every time you buy something new, remove an item. Stop buying items you already have. Try going for one month without buying anything, and become more resourceful creating new outfits with what you already have,” she says.
Knowing what colors suit you and how they co-ordinate with everything else in your wardrobe, is a skill worth developing and will help you make the most of the clothes you already own, she says.
If your style has changed fundamentally and you now have a wardrobe full of clothes you don’t wear any more, how can you edit it? Professional weeder Tara Crowley gives private lessons, helping people to identify the clothes they wear on a regular basis versus those that are unworn, often kept even if they don’t fit as an incentive to lose weight. One of her standard rules is that if something hasn’t been worn for six months, out it goes.
“A wardrobe is a very emotional place,” she says. “So many complain they have nothing to wear and open a bulging wardrobe. When they open their wardrobe, they open their hearts.”
Her three-hour sessions cover color analysis and advice on what suits particular body shapes and proportions. What clever tips can she share? Busty women need tailored jackets; a nipped in jacket can create a waist; you can come down a dress size with the right sized bra; don’t cover problem areas with volume; and high-waisted jeans lengthen the leg.
When it comes to dressing to look good on screen, where so many work meetings are still taking place, the advice is that color blocking looks modern while also making you appear taller and leaner. It is also easier than putting a whole outfit together in different shades. A blouse or top with a bit of sheen will reflect light well. Another trick is to use asymmetrical cuts that add curve to a straight line figure, or for molding around curvy ones.
Conventional wisdom is that bigger prints suit bigger frames, conversely smaller prints, smaller frames. Wrap dresses that gape should be avoided, and statement oversize suits paraded on the catwalk can in reality make the wearer look such as kids in adult clothes. Fit and flared dresses can be universally flattering.
For those with unworn suits languishing in wardrobes, style consultant Dunican advises dressing them down with loafers, or enlivening them with a round necked, brightly colored top or blouse. And the power of good blazer cannot be overestimated, she says. “It will take you anywhere, and smartens up an outfit immediately. A bit of tailoring adds a finished look to an outfit.”
Dunican encourages her clients to spend on good quality separates. Your wardrobe should be “60 per cent basic, 40 per cent fun”, she says, with “good denim — dark denim being more acceptable for smartening things up, though the traditional blue is a great shade for summer”.
The right clothes can empower us to feel confident and excited about going back into the world, she believes.
“We have had a rough time at different levels. Women want to look modern and relevant. It’s an exciting time now. And if you dress in a way that makes you feel good, it does matter. So be your own version of fabulous.”
My style …
Catherine Grehan (19): ‘Now we care a bit less’
For 19-year-old Trinity student Catherine Grehan, going out during the pandemic “was such a novelty that you wanted to make every outing special, as in my first year at college everything was online. I had so much time to plot and plan what I would wear on the few occasions that we went out, I knew exactly what I was wearing ahead of the event. Now we care a bit less”.
“I love the color blue, and dressing things up with jewellery, so an all-black outfit with blue jewelery is my staple. I wear cowboy boots much more often now and long coats, mostly my mother’s; everything I own is hers. Lots of my friends wear their mothers’ clothes.”
Vanisha Finlay (25): ‘I am not willing to part with large sums of money’
Vanisha Finlay, who works as a paralegal for a law firm in Dublin, admits that pre-Covid she would save up for an expensive bag or jacket. Not any more. “Now I look at that and see that as a financial outlay, it is not a smart idea, and I am not willing to part with large sums of money.”
How people portray themselves on social media became more transparent during the pandemic, she believes, and there is less pressure now to conform to fashion trends. “The days are past when everybody wanted the same thing.”
Her workplace is a lot more casual now than it was pre-pandemic. “My colleagues are more casual, wear flats and there is more acceptance of dressing that makes you feel comfortable. But I still dress smartly for work and love putting outfits together.”
Edith Dodd (27): ‘Don’t even mention heels’
For Edith Dodd, who works in brand marketing in the food industry, the suit is dead “and don’t even mention heels. I don’t want to know”, she says. “I work from home and my everyday wear is leggings and jumpers. We all wear hoodies on Zoom and I am less conscious of self-presentation on screen than what the background is.”
When she goes out with friends, “we are not as dressed up as before Covid”.
She and her friends often use online clothes rental services through sites such as greensaregoodforyou, a service set up by her friend last year. ,[It] has really taken off — it’s mainly nice dresses which none of us would want to buy any more, preferring to rent for a night.”
When she does buy new clothes, she is “an online shopper all the way, mainly Zara, Other Stories and Mango. I hate going into shops as there are so many people.”