The more things change, the more they become… casual?

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Words: Lesego Ntsime | Images: Getty

Whether you’re going full glam or keeping it simple, dressing up is a matter of authenticity.

In this ever-evolving world our clothes have a lot to say about how we engage with our innermost selves.

Living in a pandemic has altered many facets of our lives. Our sense of time, normalcy, and belonging (amongst other things). But an unspoken and perhaps most colossal change of all is that which occurred within ourselves. In a volatile and precarious world, dress remains a primary mode of communication - a glimpse into our internal space.

As we ponder on life beyond this turbulent time, we ought to observe the role fashion plays in communicating a newfound intimacy with ourselves. Think of your closet as a world of its own, each item representative of emotions, opinions and tales that form a part of you.

The word ‘lockdown’ is loaded with an endless list of feelings and states, but the most prevalent one is aloneness. In some way, shape or form we were compelled to confront our innermost self during this pandemic - a task that is undeniably gruelling.

In sweats, silk (if you’re a Fancy Pants), and slides we contemplated personal and collective change.

2022 style

Currently, a taste of normalcy presents itself to us. We can finally step outside here and there to “serve looks” (as the kids say). However, as history has indicated to us countless times before, fashion transcends just serving looks.

Beyond being a medium of expression, clothes are storytellers. They represent narratives we hold towards ourselves and others, consciously or unconsciously. Behind every outfit is an intention to say something, whether profound or seemingly frivolous. Remember the iconic LBD Princess Diana wore as her “revenge dress”?

It goes without saying that most, if not all, of us have undergone deep transformation. And fashion - as a generous discipline - once again affords us an opportunity to allow evolution to manifest through clothing. An updated and renewed version of you deserves a closet that encapsulates that significant internal shift right?

And what exactly does that look like for each of us? Is it colour or texture? Simplicity or complexity? Or maybe a bit of this and that - integration?

Whatever it is will certainly be rooted in gentleness, because when you’ve waded through adversity, gentleness is the only option.

‘Dressing up’ has assumed different forms throughout the years. From power dressing Madonna-style in the ‘80s to showing flesh in the noughties (hello, Christina Aguilera) to colour blocking in the early 2010s. In every case, the trend was a statement that rejected, aligned, or foreshadowed the state of the world and its people - a shared opinion between us all, and a fashionable one at that.

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If there is a common truth we share in this moment, it is the urgency of compassion and authenticity - weaving the two together to express ourselves with integrity. Dressing up is no longer some predetermined generic idea of beauty and glamour - it has become more personal than ever - a self-curated concept that addresses personhood, resonance, and truth. In the midst of uncertainty, it is appropriate to regard it as an act of celebrating oneself.

On Valentino’s Spring 2021 couture collection, the Italian luxury fashion brand’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli told Vogue Runway that “the essence of couture is the ritual, the process, the care and humanity. That’s what makes couture special.”

Couture or casual, there is indeed an intentional ritual in dressing up. It is self-care. It is romance.

The term ‘dressing up’ has always suggested that our ‘Sunday Best’ outfits were reserved for some grand occasion, but as we’ve learned with a cumbersome intensity throughout this pandemic, reserving things for a special occasion is a luxury.

Now more than ever, we are being implored to be present and grab every opportunity for joy (and glamour) without an ounce of tentativeness. Wear those barely-worn heels to the office and your sequinned items during the day. That perfectly tailored suit that’s waiting for the day one of your friends ties the knot deserves your attention now. Or maybe for you, dressing up entails wearing your mom’s vintage button-down dress with flats for a timeless yet comfortable look. Either way, dressing up is dressing you.

On the runway this season casual accompanies flamboyance. At the Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen and Bottega Veneta S/S ‘21 shows intricate, couture-like pieces were paired with sneakers and boots to bring the extravagant down to earth.

The casualisation of dressing up is by no means a foreign concept to the masses but it receives a more conscious upgrade. Suits go oversized - paired with chunky sneakers and dad caps - for both comfort and fluidity. Known for its unmissable presence on the red carpet in the 90s, the slip dress transforms into a daytime affair with flats and mules.

Daring hats, patterned trenches paired with kicks, tailored jacket at the top and tracks pants at the bottom - in menswear the lines between formal and casual, daytime and nighttime, appear more and more blurred by the season.

And who needs lines when dressing up is growing into such an explorative performance?

However, if there is a single item that has captured the essence of the casualisation of dressing up it would undoubtedly be the oversized shirt. Shapeshifting from a formal menswear essential into the ultimate go-to for brunch, the beach, and (we’ll take it a step further) loungewear in womenswear, it addresses succinctly the matter of comfort, fluidity, and clothing that transcends polarities.

We are being called to be malleable in our fashion choices and dance beyond the periphery of any limits or occasions. In a Harper’s Bazaar article titled Why I won’t be waiting for a special occasion to dress up post-pandemic, editor and image consultant Anna Vitiello expresses how “[we] no longer need a special occasion to dress up.” And why should we when our bodies are sites for transformation, love, and joy? And that endless spectrum of feelings can manifest through style.

Some of the internal battles you’ve won during this time may be known to you and you alone. But in the manner you dress you, the world will observe the endless ways you return to yourself - this camaraderie with oneself.

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