This Year in Fashion – 2020

The zoom meeting became a popular way of only half dressing for work…

Not since World War II has so little and so much happened at the same time to the world of fashion. Fashion has remained virtually unchanged this year – there has been too small an audience to make much of an impact. Some manufacturers will be even re-offering their spring 2020 collection in 2021. While luxury market sales plummeted, the fashion industry has been forever altered and COVID-19 can be blamed for much of the disruption but not for everything. 

There was already a growing awareness of how damaging every aspect of the fashion industry is to the environment. Wage inequality for those working in the fashion industry was heightened by reports from China of hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims being forced to pick cotton. It will be interesting to see if and how the fashion market will react because a ban on slave-cotton would lead to a global shortage of the textile.

COVID did bring traditional in-store shopping to a near standstill, expediting the death of many chain and department stores: Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, J.C. Penney, Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant, Aldo, Le Chateau, Top Shop… Many of the chains were teetering for years and/or were unsustainable in expensive long-term leases. Department stores have been slowly dying since the 1980s, and the few who survive the full length of the pandemic will have to reinvent their business model. Some are reorganizing or have been bought out but in the current world of fashion, without fundamental changes any restructuring is akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Fashion businesses that have survived have had online sales to thank, especially if they were purveyors of athleisure: yoga pants and leggings, T-shirts and fleece hoodies – the only part of the market that was unscathed by the pandemic lockdowns.

Dress of the Year at the Bath Fashion Museum – a hazmat suit, pink latex gloves and face mask, worn by Naomi Campbell for a transatlantic flight in March (paired up with a camel coloured cape)

The season-system of fashion collections was already fading. Dior and Chanel have asserted they will stay with traditional collection show launches, but more designers are switching to smaller online launches through social media that coincide with their collection’s availability.

What COVID-19 is doing to fashion is erasing a decade’s worth of gradual progress. Fashion is fast-forwarding to a new era where designers have to consider how to create and market their clothes in a new way. Where is the cloth sourced? Do the dyes pollute? Are living wages paid? Is the workplace inclusive? Do the clothes promote body positivity?

The globalism movement of the late 20th century inadvertently created a movement for cultural identity and individualism. This is made evident in the rise of nationalistic governments, but it has also resulted in the conscious consideration of others, ensuring everyone is heard, and reconciling past injustices. Fashion will be reflecting this even more in coming seasons.

Chromat, Spring/Summer 2020

The most common question I am asked as the curator of the Fashion History Museum is if I think fashion will become more casual, or if we will see a return to glamour. My answer is that both will happen as it becomes more acceptable to express yourself on your own terms – whether that’s in sweatpants or full drag.

2020 saw the passing of two important Japanese designers who shaped late 20th century fashion, Kenzo Takada, and Kansai Yamamoto, as well as Italian shoe magnate Sergio Rossi and Italian born French designer Pierre Cardin, who was the last of his generation of postwar French couturiers who steered fashion towards a more youthful chic in the 1960s. The year also saw the birth of a new garment that has entered virtually everybody’s wardrobe – the mask. It will be interesting to see how long face masks will continue after the pandemic has passed.

Hat Flirtations

I have posted before about fan and hankie and parasol flirtations that can supposedly be used to speak across a ballroom floor to engage a suitor. However, these were really just marketing opportunities by makers of the products, starting in the 1850s when George Duvelleroy, a Parisian fan maker, invented fan language and printed it up on cards. Here is a new one I had never heard of – hats. I found this undated reprint, probably from the early 20th century, online.

Glossary – Sewer or Sewist

Portrait of a Woman Sewing, by Charles-Antoine Coypel, France, 1746

I created a bit of a brouhaha on the FHM facebook page yesterday. I posted about the word ‘sewist’ with a reference to a New York Times (NYT) article on male sewers. The article was introduced with the tagline “The word “sewist” — an increasingly popular gender-neutral term for people who sew — appeared for the first time in The Times yesterday, as noted by the Twitter bot @NYT_first_said.” I took this statement to suggest two things. Firstly, that the word was created and/or becoming popular because it was gender-neutral and secondly, that the NYT were taking credit for being the first paper to print the word, thereby coining it into English language etymology.

I asked readers on the FHM facebook page if they felt other words to describe sewing were sexist. I couldn’t think of any terms that were specifically denoting gender, other than seamstress, but this word is now generally considered archaic, like murderess, authoress, and actress. Most words for needleworkers are already gender-neutral: sewer, stitcher, designer, pattern-maker, stylist, milliner, seamster… You might think dressmaker is gendered, but that’s the product not the maker, and tailor may be assumed to be male due to historical precedence and profiling, but a tailor is not always a man anymore than a nurse is always a woman.

One poster felt seamster was gendered because it was a masculine form of seamstress. Although her point was reasonable, feminized versions of words don’t necessarily suggest the non-feminized version applies only to men (ie: murderer, author, actor), but that didn’t seem to agree in the poster’s eyes. She was apparently offended as her comments then became more pointed and personal, ending the discussion.

Apparently I misunderstood the NYT navel gazing statement when it was pointed out that the NYT was only talking about the NYT printing the word for the first time. One poster found an article in the Los Angeles Times from 1986 that uses the word ‘sewist’, which makes me wonder why the NYT even bothered to point out that they used a 35 year old word for the first time…

In the end, Threads magazine (the ‘sewists’ bible) had the best explanation. In an article from 2012, Threads found the earliest usage of the word ‘sewist’ dates back to 1964. The word gained a popular following in the 2000s with online sewing bloggers who felt it elevated home sewing because it was created from a combination of the words ‘sewer’ and ‘artist’.

‘Sewist’ gained popularity because the most commonly used word ‘sewer’, which according to an etymological search has been around since the 14th century, can also be a conduit used for waste disposal – a 17th century use for the same heteronym (word that is spelled the same but pronounced differently).

So although the word ‘sewist’ is not gender-specific, that is not the reason it was created. However, no dictionary defines the word sewist, so you can’t use it in a game of scrabble.

Canadian Fashion Connection – Harry Tolton

Harry Tolton was born March 29, 1871 in Guelph, Ontario. He was an avid sportsman and traveller in his youth – touring Europe on a bicycle and winning the Zimmerman trophy in 1894 as a champion bicycle rider in Canada. By the turn-of-the-century he had started a shirt-making business in Galt, which he moved to Hamilton where he married in 1902. In 1905 he relocated his factory to Berlin (Kitchener) moving it from King Street East to King Street West before building his own factory off College Street. Tolton closed down the business when he retired in the early 1940s: He died in January 1947. 

Twelfth Annual Bulletin Board

My annual hodge podge of things from the past year that made me go UNHHHHH:

Queen’s Gambit fashion fail…

I have had several people tell me that I have to see Queen’s Gambit because the clothing is so wonderful. Well, I took a look, and I have to say that although the clothing may be styled well, authenticity to period was nearly completely absent. I suspect the costumer picked clothing styles she felt expressed the characters, just not in the appropriate period. The three outfits pictured below are worn by the main character in 1966 – but they look more like 1956 – and before I get comments about how people wear clothes that aren’t brand new, it didn’t work that way in the 1960s. How many people do you know are walking around with a flip phone with an antenna? Technology is more prone to fashion than fashion is these days, but in 1966, fashion was in fashion, and wearing vintage academically correct, or even ironically, wasn’t a thing yet in 1966. So sorry, but Queen’s Gambit gets a 3/10 for the costuming…

My blog may disappear….

I am having problems with my host (Hostpapa) right now who say I have all sorts of things I need to fix but I am not a techy person. Their request (see below) might as well be written in Chinese because I don’t understand what they are saying… I tried doing some of the things they recommended but nothing worked as the instructions said, and in the process I eliminated about 300 of my subscribers because I thought they were spambots…

I started this blog 12 years ago, and it was simple, and easy… and its not anymore, and its also expensive. This blog costs me $400 per year and every three months there is some issue I have to attend to that isn’t my fault, but it always seems to cost me more money and time to try to fix. Hostpapa has already shut this blog down last week because I didn’t respond to them within 48 hours (BECAUSE I HAVE A REAL LIFE WITH REAL DEADLINES…) So, if this blog disappears, you will know why….

Here is what they said I need to do — if anyone can explain what they are asking me to do in English, let me know.:

Here is the detailed information
***** (100%) Primary Domain: (Hits: 153813 Uniques:
6254) ***
– Hits Per Day —
1 October  9388  |  2 October  9206  |  3 October  10997
4 October  8789  |  5 October  8295  |  6 October  8018
7 October  7944  |  8 October  12037  |  9 October  11177
10 October  7554  |  11 October  12955  |  12 October  11459
13 October  12230  |  14 October  11722  |  15 October  12042

— Top IPs —

— Top Accessed Content/Files —
  48398 /blog/
  24634 /favicon.ico
  13097 /blog//xmlrpc.php
   3821 /robots.txt
   3718 /blog/wp-includes/css/dist/block-library/style.min.css
   3652 /blog/wp-includes/css/dist/block-library/theme.min.css
   3587 /blog/wp-includes/js/wp-emoji-release.min.js
   2520 /cgi-sys/suspendedpage.cgi
   2200 /
   2152 /blog

— Top Bot Hits —


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