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This Is Why Dark Academia Fashion Is Booming In 2020 (+ 30 Styles)

Emily walpole




Dark Academia has become one of the trendiest fashion topics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Right now, there are over 150,000 #darkacademia posts on Instagram and a million posts on Tumblr.

The topic is growing fast on Reddit as well.

However, the most significant wave of interest comes from the TikTok generation, with almost 20 million views to date.

But what is Dark Academia and why is it booming right now? Here is everything you need to know!

What Is Dark Academia?

Dark academia aesthetics

Dark Academia aesthetic: White shirt, thin necklace, round watch, dark makeup, holding Homérosz book.

Dark academia refers to a new aesthetic style that draws inspiration from the classic Greek arts, writing, architecture, deeply infused with Gothic elements and concepts of death.

Dark academia fashion style is designed to reflect a subculture that emphasises on education, learning, reading, writing, and hence the ‘academic’ touch.

Dark Academia definition

However, what makes the dark academia fashion look so distinct from the classic academic fashion style is the ‘dark’, gothic aesthetic influence.

To best picture the ‘dark academia fashion’, imagine someone wearing a pair of vintage tweed pants.

Add to that image a slubby thick yarn cardigan and a worn satchel, packed with academic papers and books.

Dark academia fashion

Dark Academia vintage look

The style is filled with nostalgia vibes.

The Dark Academia subculture revives the 19th century of private English boarding schools and Ivy League colleges in New England.

The Dark Academia Aesthetic

Dark academia aesthetics

Dark Academia spring/summer style with short skirt

Right now, the Dark Academia aesthetic draws a lot from the Greek culture and arts, but also from the Harry Potter films.

Popular with the teenagers posting on social media, the Harry Potter series made wool sweaters, rich textures cardigans and chocolate brown pants, fashionable again.

Dark academia aesthetics

Dark Academia outfit: Wool sweaters, brown trousers and check coat

To fashion critics, the Dark Academia aesthetic is similar to the classic preppy style.

Preppy became famous for its chinos, argyle and crewneck sweaters.

Also, for its grosgrain and woven leather belts, madras, and button-down Oxford cloth shirts.

Preppy fashion style

Classic preppy style

In that sense, the Dark Academia aesthetic is very similar.

Yet, it is more Autumn-Esque, with duller and darker colour palettes.

Why Is Dark Academia Fashion Booming Now?

Dark academia fashion style in black and brown

Dark Academia summer outfit with a brown check blazer and white top

This spring saw schools from all over the world come to a halt.

There aren’t any more classes or studies abroad.

There are no more graduations, proms or fashion show-offs.

Dark academia on social media

Dark Academia student look with wool check trousers, white shirt and dark sweater

Moreover, what’s going to happen in September remains somehow unknown.

However, teenagers missing school – because of the Coronavirus lockdown –  have recoursed to a style that keeps them connected somehow.

True, the concept of Dark Academia fashion precedes the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, it was during the lockdown, when the 14 to 24 years old have started to flood social media platforms with school-like outfits.

Dark academia on Tumblr

Tumblr search for #darkacademia

And, the gloomy feel of COVID-19 brought the Gothic vibe out, and people started to tag pics with the ‘Dark Academia’ moniker.

However, the subculture is most popular amongst three groups in particular:

1. Students

The idea behind any Dark Academia style is to construct a look that’s reflecting and accentuating your ‘cultural self’.

Rocking this style does not require you to have a countryside mansion with a big kitchen for baking and a field of flowers.

Dark academia students

Laura Piszczatowska Dark Academia vintage look

In fact, some of the best representatives of the Dark Academia style are students such as Laura Piszczatowska, a history graduate from Norway.

“My favourite academia outfits consists of tweed pants, black turtlenecks, elegant boots, and long thrift coats,” she said.

Laura also runs ‘Geminnorum’, a Dark Academia Instagram account with over 28,000 followers.

2. Gender-free

Dark Academia fashion styles suit the LGBTQ+ community as well“, says Evelyn Meyer, a supporter of Dark Academia male looks and creator of ‘Dark Academia Check Sound’.

@morrisseysPpl will ask me the name of my aesthetic and dark academia is the closest description♬ original sound – morrisseys

Evelyn’s statement is reinforced by Dilara Schloz, a fashion historian and researcher at Royal Holloway, University of London:

“Androgynous vintage blazers are representative for the Dark Academia aesthetic,” said Dilara

Dilara considers herself an adherent of the Dark Academia subculture.

“Most Dark Academia silhouettes remind of the 1940s men’s look. It is a style that can be worn by anyone who does not fit into any gender definition,” she completes.

The success of the style with the LGBTQ+ community is, in part, credited to books and films that feature LGBTQ+ characters.

Dark Academia Books

Left to right: ‘If We Were Villains‘ by M.L. Rio and ‘Kill Your Darlings‘ by Allen Ginsberg.

“A good part of Dark Academia is aesthetics. But, the more you explore the styles, the more you connect to other people like you. The main point here is a common desire to learn,” said Declan Lyman, 15, who posts Dark Academia videos on TikTok. “

“Even though it’s about classics and styles, Dark Academia is a very open community,” said Lucien K, 21, who posts Dark Academia TikToks of himself reading books and doing makeup to the tune of Vivaldi. “It’s also about breaking stereotypes regardless of gender or sexuality.”

@_jpgodMy morning coffee ##darkacademia ##daekacademiaaesthetic♬ original sound – meaganexline

3. Plus size

To date, the Dark Academia subculture has shown the same openness towards the plus-size people.

“I was afraid to wear anything that would accentuate my body shapes and weight. However, after falling in love with the style I’ve realised that if I wear clothes that make me feel happy and confident, any fear goes away,” told us Helen Belfort, a student at the University of Oxford, UK.

However, it still remains difficult to find suitable dark academia outfits for plus size.

Just like Helen, I am also falling into this category.

In the past, I’ve tried to find complete Dark Academia outfits.

It was sooooo hard. In fact, my struggle to find suitable garments is one of the main reasons I am writing and sharing this article with you.

In time I’ve discovered that it is much easier to buy individual pieces rather than whole outfits.

Moreover, I love the process of creating my special looks as I put the parts together, one by one.

Dark academia plus size shopping

Dark Academia oversized capsule wardrobe

Here are some of the best places to shop Dark Academia plus size :

  1. Thrift shops -The best places to shop Dark Academia Plus size are the vintage and thrift shops! There you’ll find unique garments for a good price. Above all, right now this is the most sustainable way of shopping.
  2. Cato – this is one of my favourite places to find pleated dress pants. They also have button-down shirts, vintage blazers, and pencil skirts. I also like Cato because they have special offers very often and I never spent more than $20 on any piece.
  3. Everlane – this is my other favourite, particularly for blazers. More expensive than Cato, but the quality (and sustainability) is great.
  4. Torrid –  for their excellent corduroy creations and pants.
  5. H&M+ for some rare gothic pieces.
  6. Target – In particular their Ava + Viv line.

Dark Academia Fashion Summer

Dark Academia summer outfit

Dark Academia black outfit with a tweed skirt

Given their apparent heavy and Gothic constructs, the Dark Academia fashion styles are not that suitable for countries with long summers and hot weather all year round.

However, Dark Academia styles are great for cities with a colder climate.

The same applies to places that have four regular seasons, during autumn and winter seasons.

Dark academia summer outfit

Dark Academia spring/summer look with check blazer and white T-shirt

Nevertheless, some of you insist on wearing this style in the summer as well.

If that’s your case, there are some ways around as I’m going to explain below:

To start with, you must pick only all-natural fabrics.

Avoid polyester and plastic blends at all costs.

Compared to blends, natural fibres absorb moisture fast.

Especially if you sweat a lot, these organic fabrics will let your body ventilate with ease.

From all-natural fibres, these are the top 4 you should wear:

  • Linen – it offers excellent ventilation and it is much better for the environment as well.
  • Organic cotton – it is a light material that’s also easy to wear. Moreover, organic cotton has minimal impact on the environment.
  • Silk – There’s something magical about vintage silk. It is light, cool, easy to wear. Preferably, if you buy new garments, go for cruelty-free silk.
  • Wool – Apart from being very suitable in the colder days of winter, wool is an excellent alternative to cotton, in the summer as well, thanks to its increased breathable capability.

Most Popular Dark Academia Styles Right Now

Dark academia fashion style

Ralph Lauren Pre-Fall 2019 Collection

Some of the most popular Dark Academia styles right now are built on three core things:

  • First, the garments you put together must be vintage, from thrift stores, or online websites selling secondhand fashion, with a gothic vibe.
  • Second, the overall style must augment the intellectual look. For that, try to complement the leather-bound books, handwritten notes, and rolled maps coming out of your handbag.
  • Third, each popular Dark Academia style relies on some of the staples I enumerate below.

Blouses & Tops

Dark Academia top and blouse

Left to right: Catalina J Euphoria Blouse – SHOHEI Pia Shirt

Choose blouses that have cuffed sleeves – it helps to create that extra touch of British heritage.

You should also choose blouses with large bell sleeves, to achieve that unique academic look.

For a more sophisticated Dark Academia look, go for tops that you can button up.

I personally wear a lot of versatile wrap tops made of silk.

Not only silk is super cool and breathable in the summertime, but distressed silk tops confer me with a rebellious, unique style.

Skirts & Trousers

Dark Academia Skirt and Trousers

Left to right: The Artwear Emporium ‘Tweed’ skirt – Alabama Chanin ‘The Tailored Pant’ trousers

For a super stylish and refined Dark Academia look I recommend you to go for long skirts.

Easier and more comfortable when compared to trousers.

Also, if you live in a hot country, long skirts are preferable to trousers.

Why? Because skirts protect your legs from the sun while allowing ventilation at the same time.

However, if you decide to wear trousers, remember that wool-blends and corduroy materials are best for this style.

I also wear trousers and I often cut them at the ankle height for an extra bit of nonconformist look.

But, if you don’t know how to cut and sew back trousers, cuff them up to create that kind of sailor, tapered look.


Dark Academia blazers, jackets and coats

Left to right: Everlane ‘The Oversized’ blazer – Ovna Ovich ‘Eleanor’ wool blazer

Remember the glorified tweed blazer of the 50s?

The tweed blazer is by far the best outerwear for the Dark Academia look.

Just make sure you put it over your shoulders, without the sleeves on.


When it comes to which shoes are best for the Dark Academia look, the opinions are split.

Some prefer open shoes, just like the ancient Romans and Greeks.

Others argue that there are no sandals in Harry Potter movies and insist on boots and low chunky heels.

Personally, I prefer boots as it allows me to emphasise on the Gothic look that I love so much.

Yet, regardless of what shoes you choose, make sure you do not wear flip flops with the Dark Academia style.

Seriously now, don’t ever do that!

Now it’s your turn…

What is your favourite Dark Academia fashion style?

What do you recommend for Dark Academia summer outfits?

What is the biggest problem you’ve faced when going for this style?

Is there any other style you would like us to cover?

Would love to hear your thought and comments below!

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Paris Men’s Fashion Week, Settling Into Its Digital Format, Offers Glimpse Of New Normal

Emily walpole



Paris Men’s Fashion Week, Settling Into Its Digital Format, Offers Glimpse Of New Normal

Once again, PFW men’s fashion was relegated to a virtual audience. Since the pandemic all but canceled the collective men’s fashion shows last summer showing Spring 2021 collections – save for a few determined brands – a coordinated online presence is at least progress. In late September, slash early October, the women’s Spring 2021 collections proceeded with a digital presence enhanced by a bevy of live shows in Paris shown to a local audience. At that moment, it looked like the worst of the Coronavirus was behind us. But as the men’s collections debuted this past week, the City of Lights, currently under strict curfew to abet further spread, is contemplating yet a third lockdown related to the raging second (or third?) wave of the highly transmissible virus.

Fashion designers are known to interpret the events, moods and habits of the world and society around them. So, it’s safe to safe that, like the rest of the world, their daily routines have changed too, especially for any American designers who shows here who have experienced epic societal, political and environmental crises since the virus took over in March. Looking ahead to Fall 2021 begs the question, will life return to normal? Or rather, what will the new normal be? For many, and especially designers, right now is the time to rethink norms regarding fashion and dressing codes.

The Inspiration

Overall, there seemed to be a more louche, relaxed approach to dressing, as if suits, on the whole, will be optional. After months of the hardest dressing decision being what hoodie to wear on a Zoom call, designers propose a lighter, more comfortable, but more colorful dressing approach. Other offer clothes that protect from the uncertainty of the future or make a nod to the protection of Mother Earth, whether through upcycling efforts or blatant cries to rescue the environment.


One thing that remained a constant was missing the energy of physical fashion shows, which includes a packed community that convenes together to compare notes, exchange ideas and share the enthusiasm for a show. But digital leaves the playing field on how to show wide open. Many designers have morphed into mini-directors and film producers, putting together entertaining clips that allow for more in-depth, richer storytelling. It’s safe to say that for some brands, the new normal will mean eschewing the runway altogether and continuing to create digital runway shows – which have a wider audience reach – to introduce their latest collections. In some cases, the films can be less costly than staging live shows. Theoretically, monies could also be put into other types of in-person events to promote the collection.

Forever Changed?

As for the merchandise, there will be plenty for the retailers to choose from to entice their customers. However, many younger brands have pivoted to focus on direct to consumer as store closings left them to fend for themselves to move canceled merchandise and stock. For some in luxury, the pandemic has funneled money spent on experiences into acquiring goods. How these habits and trends evolve in the sector will be exciting to watch.

Some brands were new to the Paris calendar, such as KidSuper. Louis Vuitton amped up the energy of the Fall 2021 PFW with a pop-up store, art installation, and AR activation. Brands such as Acne and Celine postponed altogether, presumably to join forces with the women’s’ collections. Other men’s mainstays such as Berluti, Walter Van Beirendonck and Thom Browne showed teaser films hinting at a new collection to debut soon. Browne’s charming vignette, entitled “Another Day at the Office,” portrayed kids wearing the designer’s signature shrunken grey suits playing office. It could have been mistaken as a commentary on the pandemic during which the only people going back to their daily ‘office’ is children who have been able to return to school while parents work at home. Digital has also stripped down some of the confines associated with showing with a specific week. Several brands have opted to combine men’s with women’s collections for a later showing. It’s important to note that following the films was a statement assuring that all health protocols, including requiring negative PCR tests, were taken in the filming of the productions as models were shown without masks and not always socially distanced.

Paris Heavyweights – The majors’ statement for Fall 2021

Dior Homme – Kim Jones is on a roll as he prepares an additional role as women’s co-creative director at Fendi in which he will make his Haute Couture debut. That didn’t deter from delivering a stellar Dior Homme. With a hint of military flare borrowed from the Academy of Beaux-Arts, the designer drew art inspiration this time from Peter Doig. He offered a new take on the men’s wardrobe that suggests daring color combos – rich deep browns and purple with a pop of acid yellow, for instance. Fuzzy mohair sweaters, notched-hem jackets and new slouchy pants with a slit kick flair hem were essential directional items of this collection.

Hermes – Filmed in French government ministry building, the Mobilier National, showed male models interacting as if in a laid-back business environment. Creative director Véronique Nichanian may be suggesting a new normal for the office mood post-pandemic.  With a bit of a retro vibe – be sure to pay attention to short pants with fuller legs – her designs propose a more casual approach to being put together and comfortable too, think zip-front jackets, looser pants, and sneakers. A color palette of muted purple, ochres, tan, teal, mustard and grey added to the fresh take.

Rick Owens – Filmed on location in Venice and entitled “Gethsemane” in a nod to our uncertain times, the Rick Owens man is almost biblical in his raw energy. Tighty-whitey’s worn with thigh-high boots with a bevy of cloaks, whether in duvet style puffer coats or long cashmere knits, may be aimed at a specific niche. Still, undoubtedly, Owen’s collaboration with Converse, reimagined with a distinct square toe, will surely be a sellout.

Dries Van Noten – Filmed in Antwerp, Dries Van Noten is looking forward to getting his men dressed again. He plays upon wardrobe stereotypes such as the collared shirt and rethinks them in massive-oversized garments—ditto for shorts, pajama-like tops, cable knits, sweaters, cloaks and shortened ankle pants. Overall, the collection was less print-heavy than usual, projecting a more somber tone.

JW Anderson – In a personal ‘one-on-one’ explanation of the collection, which was depicted via a series of posters made with Jurgen Teller, designer JW Anderson breaks down the collection as an “experimentation in simplicity and reduction’ with a focus on craft and modernity. Besides quirky vegetable motifs throughout the collection, look for more versions of the popular patchwork mohair sweater made famous by Harry Styles.

Loewe – In a similar move from his namesake collection, designer JW Anderson walks the audience through the collection inspired by artist Joe Brainard. The artist’s work is worked into intricate leather intarsia patterns, a hallmark of the Spanish leather goods house expertise; shearling jackets feature a patchwork of the artists’ work and an oversize panel pant with legs that extend to two square panels. The theme of repetition in the artwork is conveyed as multi-layers of the same garment. A new tote version of the house’s Elephant bag will surely be a retail push-

Jil Sander – One of the more tailored efforts, this smart, intellectual collection of separates showed funnel neck overcoats, turtlenecks, boxy leather shirts and trim pants. It was somber but given a touch of flair with heavy jewelry statements –an emerging trend for men – and neck scarfs a la the military. An image fused onto a jacket subbed for prints.

Environment Concerns – Several designers wove their concerns for the natural world into their collections.

Reese Cooper – The California-based up-and-coming designer took on an epic staging by filming his collection runway atop the recently wildfire-damaged Mt. Wilson at the legendary astrophysics study station. The designer, whose collection takes the technical aspects of both streetwear and outdoor gear and gives them a fashion makeover, chose the location to bring awareness to California’s wildfires. For instance, one seasonal slogan read, “The Call of the Wild Should not be Help.” Additionally, some of his outerwear, hunting jackets, hoodies, anoraks, and varsity jackets came emblazoned with the National Forest Foundation logo. The proceeds from the sale of those garments will be donated to the fund.

Vetements – More a nod to social and political concerns, Vetements also addressed the environment with a ‘hellfire” set backdrop and flame print.  In contrast was a more uplifting rainbow and ‘heavens’ gate” background. They set the tone for the catchy merch with slogans on T-shirts, hoodies and jackets such as “Think why you still can,” “If you were wishing for a sign, this is it,” “Restricted” while others’ relayed a unified message “we are the people.” As for trends, this show had shoulder pads on boxy tops, sheer mesh tops, bike shorts, long slinky knit dresses. Additional prints were marble and a striking multi-flag pattern.

Botter – The duo behind Botter, Lisi Herreburgh and Rushemy Botter, want to bring attention to more than their collection as well. The show entitled “Romancing the Coral Reef’ contained footage of the coral reef they sponsor in Curacao, the Dutch municipality in the Caribbean. Both natives of the island, their collections reference both life and environmental concerns there. In this outing, they added fishing lures as décor to looser suits with boxy shouldered jackets that fall away from the body, strong parka style outerwear, and seafaring staples such as a riff a sailor top or fisherman’s sweater and waterproof outerwear constructed into 3D shapes with lug pull details. Tank-style tops were given a tailored revamp and tailored and skinny paper-thin turtlenecks balanced oversized proportions, a trend emerging for men.

White Mountaineering – Living true to their name, White Mountaineering explored man’s role in nature and staged their film on a snow-filled mountain depicting models both in camping and solitary commune with the climate as well as enjoying on snowboards and downhill skis. More tailored than in the past, this collection delivered on merch suitable for the lifestyle shown.

Streetstyle Notables – As some in the industry infamously decreed streetwear dead, a pandemic hit. Some notable collections offering the casual lifestyle are proof positive it’s here to stay.

Isabel Marant – The designer’s menswear collection builds upon polish streetwear styles with a preppy vibe. Rugby shirts, retro-V-neck sweaters, bucket hats, shearling collar carcoats, duffle coats in bold prints, layered anoraks, buffalo plaids and pants made to move whether trainers or the return of pleated khakis, only this time cool

Rhude – Lots of leather and a touch of sexy in this co-ed show shot in LA at night with a McLaren holding court center stage on the smoky set. Think updated preppy styles worn in new ways, furry hoodies, leather suits with a loose fit pant, oversized double-breasted jackets and short boxy outwear for him. For her, sexy off-shoulder tops, slit skirts, a woven bustier, pleated chiffon dress and adoption of men’s oversized overcoats and khaki workwear styles.

Andrea Crews – Notably, one designer to embrace the latest technology in showing his collection was Crews. His signature sweatshirt with long below-the-knee epic proportions, for example. The designer dissects his garment, making his hybrid creations using CGI models and breaking down tech packs.

Casablanca – Up-and-coming brand Casablanca seems to be courting the aspiring Gucci customer with a look that embraces the awkward side of the 70s and 80s. Designer Charaf Tajer’s slick video depicted a bevy of young men and women living a glamourous party-filled life in celebration of the Grand Prix car race. The brand is big on patterns, thus a diamond check, plaids, and other lively prints paired with either sunglasses or eyewear on every look made for the quirky vibe. Hence the Gucci reference. Still, this is a developing lifestyle brand to watch.

KidSuper – Streetwear brand to transition into high fashion sphere, the brand shot a charming video on New York Lower East Side and even starred the designer Colm Dillane. This brand is a one-stop-shop for color puffers; in fact, if color and pattern combining and clashing is the vibe sought, check out this brand.

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We all know the true cost of fast fashion, so why can’t we kick the habit?

Emily walpole



We all know the true cost of fast fashion, so why can’t we kick the habit?

In red capital letters, the website declared: ‘99% OFF’. Above, was a picture of a woman in a beige bandeau top. Below, was the price tag of just 6p.

If ever proof was needed that nearly a decade of crusades led by eco-conscious and human rights activists against fast fashion had made little impact, then the jaw-dropping prices of last November’s PrettyLittleThing’s Black Friday sale was it.

While some shoppers took to social media to show off their bargain buys – which also included dresses on sale for 8p and offered the chance to win £1,000 – others considered it as a materialistic two-finger salute to the fatal tragedy that forced consumers across the globe to confront the true cost of fast fashion eight years ago.

Back then, in 2013, as reams of brightly coloured fabrics churned together with bodies buried among the dusty rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, we were given an unwavering education into the real price of throwaway fashion. There was no longer any doubt to the answer of the back-of-the-mind question of how we were able to afford a pair of skinny jeans for just a few quid.

It was a lesson that cost 1,134 garment workers their lives and injured countless others.

The disaster saw people take to social media demanding to know #whomademyclothes, while documentaries examined our wear-it-once-and-throw-it-away mentality.

As well as the human impact, we learned the environmental one, too. Not only did we discover the fashion industry is the second largest industrial polluter after aviation, but research released just last year from the Finnish school Aalto University also revealed that over 92 million tonnes of waste was being produced by the fashion industry per year – that’s 11,000 items of clothing to landfill every week, just in the UK.

Yet, despite all this, it seems that somewhere along the way, these lessons still haven’t stuck.

PrettyLittleThing clothes on sale for as little as 15p
The PrettyLittleThing Black Friday sale saw clothing sold with huge discounts

a woman cries and she holds her child in one hand and a picture of her husband in the other
The Rana Plaza factory collapse cost 1134 garment workers their lives and injured countless others (Picture: AP)

Is it because the message isn’t clear, people don’t care or that, for many, being ethically fashionable just isn’t sustainable?

‘Simply put, people stick with what they know,’ explains fashion expert Kate Auguste. ‘They go with brands they trust, know their size and have the knowledge that if an outfit doesn’t work out they can send it back with zero friction.’

When it comes to sales, says Kate – who went from being a fast fashion buyer to running her own sustainable fashion business – throwaway clothes will continue to win as long as the price tag is far lower than the one on something made with sustainability in mind.

‘The cost per piece is so low, brands can mark them down as much as 80-90%,’ she explains. ‘We have built a society where people want to see their money go further and this is the case with fashion.

‘Why buy a pair of jeans for £100 when you can get four in different colours? This is regardless of race, gender of class – this is how we have been conditioned within our purchasing culture.

‘On top of that, we have also lost a skill set of not being educated on how to sew, therefore creating a generation who have no true understanding of how things are made. It means that considering what an item has to go through in order for it to be produced will never be in the forefront of their minds.

Kate Auguste in jeans and a dark t-shirt.
‘Why buy a pair of jeans for £100 when you can get four in different colours?’ says Kate Auguste (Picture: Kate Auguste)

‘It’s not the consumer’s fault how the product is being made,’ she adds. ‘Fast fashion businesses have zero moral compass and profit will always come before anything else, even if it’s made from other people’s misery.

‘People question how they can “get away” with what they are producing, but the answer is simple – there isn’t any legislation or regulation.

‘Even the modern slavery act 2015 isn’t worth the paper it’s written on because when it comes to the supply chain within the fashion Industry, information is voluntary. There is no regulation that says you have to declare where your fabric comes from and how it’s been produced, how your workers are treated when making the garment you are selling and there’s no  producer responsibility to what happens when the product is discarded.’

Workers sorting through garment waste
Over 92 million tonnes of waste was being produced by the fashion industry per year (PIcture: Getty Images )

Garments factory waste dumping sites
11,000 items of clothing go to landfill every week (Credits: Getty Images)

In 2019, a report by Clean Clothes Campaign showed that while 85% of brands had committed to ensuring wages that were enough to support workers’ basic needs, none were putting this into practice for any worker in countries where the vast majority of clothing is produced, such as Asia and Eastern Europe.

They were able to sidestep responsibility by claiming that wages which had been negotiated between unions and employers counted as a living wage, despite still being desperately low.

Here in the UK, even a pandemic – when most of the high street was shut down for over three months – hasn’t made a dent in our desire for cheap, throwaway clothes.

In fact, last April saw a 22% rise in online clothing sales compared to four years earlier. By August it was up by 97%.

‘We need to remember that everyone’s social status changed in lockdown,’ explains Kate. ‘Suddenly, the go to product was loungewear or nice tops for Zoom meetings. Of course, fast fashion houses were able to accommodate this quick change in events. They were able to deliver the needs and wants quicker than anyone else.’

Labour Behind The Label, is a group that campaigns for garment workers’ rights worldwide and has been tracking the response of brands during the Covid crisis. Their research revealed that high street brands including Arcadia, ASOS, Primark and M&S initially cancelled their orders with suppliers due to the drop in demand – many after they’d been made, and in some cases, shipped- adding further pressure onto the livelihoods of workers. Other suppliers were asked to give discounts on their orders, meaning they were forced to produce clothes for free.

After external pressure, the majority of brands decided to pay for the orders in full.

Meanwhile, although some employees were put on furlough in the UK, the scheme doesn’t exist in many producing countries.

At best, the government has put in minimum requirements for getting paid, but often it’s only up to 50% of their wages, and when someone is already earning a poverty wage, it’s near impossible to survive on so little money. At worst, employees lost their jobs altogether. webpage
Boohoo were putting their employees at risk of Covid-19 by working with factories in Leicester that continued to operate during the pandemic (Picture: Getty)

In a more horrifying twist, lockdown witnessed the discovery that online retailers Boohoo were putting their employees at risk of Covid-19 by working with factories in Leicester that continued to operate during the pandemic, with no social distancing measures in place, no provision of PPE and no sanitising stations available to employees.

The fashion group, which owns a total of nine brands, including Karen Millen, Nasty Gal, Oasis, Warehouse and PrettyLittleThing – home to the Black Friday controversy – were also accused of modern slavery when it was revealed that these garment workers were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour, despite the minimum wage being £8.72 for those over 25.

According to Dominique Muller, policy director for Labour Behind The Label, such practices are still happening because suppliers are being pressured to fulfil unrealistic orders.

‘They’re essentially told by the clothing companies, “You’ve got to make these goods quickly and if you don’t, we won’t order from you again,” so they agree,’ she explains.

‘The insecurity and price pressure means that they’re more likely to underpay or to take people on short-term contracts to finish an order without a contract, or alternatively pay cash-in-hand.

‘Workers are told, “If you don’t finish the order, then you might as well go home”.’

Muller adds that after the slave labour scandal during lockdown, Labour Behind The Labour did their own calculations into Boohoo’s costings. ‘The prices they pay suppliers to make garments in the UK isn’t enough for them to pay minimum wages, and in some cases, they’re not enough to pay the minimum wage if they were in Pakistan,’ she says.

Following the revelations, Boohoo launched an independent review and in September announced its Agenda for Change programme, which vowed to take steps to improve supplier audits and compliance procedures. The group also appointed new independent directors and launched of a Supply Chain Compliance Committee.

However, Kate adds, it seems that a little bit of bad press didn’t do too much damage to the brand. ‘Last year Boohoo was involved in one of the biggest modern slavery scandals in the UK. Yet their share price, though it took a dip, bounced right up again,’ she says.

For many consumers, even when our conscience tells us that we should be buying sustainable over fast fashion, the reality isn’t so simple.

Polly Harrison wearing a maxi dress
’I’d really love to buy something made-to-order, but unfortunately, not all of them offer larger sizes’ (Picture: Polly Harrison)

Polly Harrison, 24, is a journalist from North Wales and says she’s unable to find affordable and environmentally-friendly fashion that fits her.

‘I would love to shop sustainably, but it’s physically impossible for me,’ she explains. ‘I’m a size 24, so there are very limited options available.

‘I’ve only ever seen an item that would fit me in a charity shop once in my life and it was really ugly. There’s nothing stylish available, so I shop at ASOS and SimplyBe.’

Made-to-order brands such as By Megan Crosby and Mary Benson London are growing in popularity, but these are often expensive.

She adds, ’I’d really love to buy something made-to-order, but unfortunately, not all of them offer larger sizes. If they do, it often comes with a higher price tag and at the moment, it’s just not an option for me to pay £100 pounds for a pair of slow fashion trousers. I could save that money on a deposit for a house.’

Another option for those hoping to enjoy fashion sustainably is renting clothes. Apps such as By Rotation and Hurr lend shoppers designer items for a fraction of the price, which encourages circular fashion and reduces landfill and waste. But similarly to sustainable fashion brands and second-hand clothes, Polly struggles to find anything available in her size.

Polly Harrison
Polly says she would love to shop sustainably but it’s impossible (Picture: Polly Harrison)

‘I’m yet to find a rental company that offers plus sizes,’ she says. ‘The last time I looked, the clothes only went up to a size 16. It’s a shame, because it’s something I would be interested in trying.’

While the sustainable fashion market still has some work to do to cater for every body and budget, ThredUp’s 2019 Fashion Resale Market Report predicted that second-hand fashion will grow to nearly 1.5 times the size of fast fashion by 2028.

However, according to Labour Behind The Label’s Dominique Muller, to bring about authentic, lasting change, consumers need to keep holding brands accountable and demanding more.

‘Ask shop assistants where items are made,’ she suggests. ‘Often they have no idea, but they’ll tell their managers and the managers will feed it back to head office. If everyone was asking, then they would start making change quicker.’

Betsy Benn, who is also trying to swap her throwaway fashion habit for a more sustainable one, says she simply doesn’t believe that grilling shop floor staff will make a difference.

‘I can imagine it would take at least 30 customers a week saying something like that to the same sales assistant before they raise it with their line manager, and then 30 times of them raising it with their line manager before the regional manager hears about it, and then they would have to hear about it from several of their stores before sending it further up the line,’ she says. ‘That’s a painfully slow process.

Betsy Benn
Betsy Benn is also trying to swap her throwaway fashion habit for a more sustainable one (Picture: Betsy Benn)

‘Plus,’ Betsy adds, ‘aren’t you just pushing the responsibility of your shopping choices onto a shop worker, who has already had a sh*tty year and probably isn’t extremely well paid if they work for an unethical brand to begin with?

‘For the vast majority of the big brands, they could hear all this and still happily ignore it. The only thing that would change their minds is if being sustainable were more profitable than not being so and that becomes something that governments would have to start legislating on.’

This is something Kate Auguste has been working on for the past two years.

In the summer of 2019 she set up a petition to get the #FixingFashion report, which looks into the sustainability of the UK fashion industry, back on the Environmental Audit Committee agenda after it had been previously met with silence from the government.

‘Fortunately, the EAC listened and last December she was invited to be part of a roundtable event at Parliament, ‘Producer Responsibility’ was highlighted during an oral session,’ Kate explains. ‘We had Boohoo give evidence about their practice in moving their business forward to becoming more sustainable.’

Auhtor and influencer Eilidh Gallagher admits that she used to regularly spend £100 a pop in Primark.

‘It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when everything is so cheap, you end up with so much,’ she explains. ‘However, about two years ago, I started feeling uncomfortable encouraging others to buy more by posting pictures of me in an outfit knowing I was probably only going to wear it once.

‘Then I watched a documentary about the impact of fast-fashion. Not long after, I saw something on social media about using your influence to do good, and it all came to a head.’

Eilidh Gallaghe
‘I used to regularly spend £100 in Primark’ says Eilidh Gallagher

Talking about how she made the transition, 36-year-old Eilidh says: ‘Initially I planned to give up buying new for a month, but then I ended up doing it for the whole of 2019. I had to go cold turkey, or I knew it’d be just one thing this week, then another next week. I also told everybody to give me an incentive, to keep going.’

Eilidh bought absolutely nothing for just over a year, before her clothes fell apart and she had to replace them.

‘I’d been buying cheap, poor quality clothes and I discovered that, surprisingly, they don’t last,’ she admits.’There were beginning to be gaps in my wardrobe, so I researched what I needed and then spent time deciding whether I really needed the items in my basket.

‘It did come as a shock when I started to buy more sustainable clothes, because I was so used to paying cheap prices,’ she admits.

Now, Eilidh only allows herself to buy certain items new, such as underwear and swimwear – but for everything else she shops consciously.

‘If I want to buy something, I buy second-hand from eBay or Depop, or find independent brands on Instagram with good ethics,’ explains the mum-of -three and author of Green Christmas: Little Changes That Bring Joy And Help The Planet. ‘There’s no doubt it costs more, but they last so much longer. And you really end up loving the pieces , because you feel more invested in them, both finanically and emotionally.’

When Betsy, who runs a personalised gift business, made the decision to try and shop more ethically in 2019, she hadn’t expected the transition to be so hard.

‘I thought it would be easier to make the swap from fast to sustainable fashion, but the process is full of hurdles,’ she says.

‘Just finding information was hard enough. Some brands have a “we’re ethical” page on their website and some don’t, so it was easy to avoid the ones that don’t even make a sustainable claim. But then you have most brands that have a range that they make sustainable claims on. It’s really not easy to see where that range starts and stops.

‘After the Bangladesh factory collapse I’d hoped that most brands were making moves to become more sustainable and there seemed to be a rush of brands making t-shirts and leggings from old plastic bottles for example – but a lot of people seemed to stop there!

‘I don’t just want to know if the cotton is organic and sustainable, I want to know where the factories are, what they consider a living wage to be, whether their employees here or overseas are well treated, what the packaging is – but that level of information is hard to find.’

When Betsy did find brands that she liked, she says they tended to be niche. ‘I really liked Howies, who do great T-shirts and outdoor wear, but it meant I still needed to find dresses and skirts.’

Cost was also a factor, she says. ‘While I’m happy to spend more on clothes that last longer, it’s harder when you’re buying for kids as they outgrow their clothes so quickly. When I do buy the odd cheap T-shirt for my son, I have to remind myself that this is a temporary stop gap and won’t be forever.’

According to Kate Auguste there is an ‘amazing’ minority of people who do push back on brands. ‘But we need collective action when changing the fashion system, and this means we need the movement to be more inclusive. Not just in race and gender, but with class too,’ she says.

‘This starts with stopping placing blame on those who cannot afford the fairer fashion items. Instead, get them involved by focusing on calling out corporate impunity, whether that’s by writing to MPs or brands, or using social media to pull brands up on their ethics.

‘Anything we can do to make people feel more involved and engaged, will be more effective – and we have to be, because, at the end of the day, we’re changing the world not just changing our wardrobe.’

How to help in the fight against fast fashion

It’s clear that giving up fast fashion isn’t easy, whether that’s down to money, sizing or availability. But there are still things you can do to make a difference:

Host a clothes swap, making sure you invite people who are similar sizes so there will be something for everyone.

Continue asking #whomademyclothes on your social media platforms – remembering to tag the brand. You can also add the hashtag #whatsinmyclothes. Share who responds and who doesn’t.

Head to YouTube and find a sewing tutorial that works for you, whether you’re your just starting out or looking for advice on how to repair or upcycle a specific piece of clothing.

Set yourself no-buy goals. Start with one month, then see how far you can up it.

Government can have a huge impact on the lives of those who make our clothes as legislators decide things like minimum wage and working conditions, so contact your local policy maker and encourage others to do the same.

If you have children, educate them at home about how clothes are made and ask your school to consider addressing it, if they don’t already. Also encourage your kids to help you fix or sew outfits when they get a bit worn, rather than throw away.

Visit for further advice and ideas, as well as templates for letters and social media posts, and with brand email addresses.

Daisy Jordan is the founder of Wear Next

Do you have a story for In Focus? Get in touch by emailing

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Ups, downs of fashion in 2020

Emily walpole



Ups, downs of fashion in 2020

It is a truth generally acknowledged that 2020 will be known as the year that changed everything: our attitude toward our health, technology and the fragility of democracy; the economies of the arts, hospitality, sports and travel.

Will it also be the year that changed what we wear? How could it not? When our sense of identity evolves, so do the clothes we use to express that sense and the industry that enables us.

Some of the changes are obvious: the rise of leggings and loungewear; the mask as accessory; e-commerce as the most popular form of buying and selling; the dominance of the Zoom top. Ditto the fall of department stores — at least the department store as we know it — as well as the red carpet.

But more subtle shifts also took place. If style were a stock market, these are the ups and downs in fortune that charted the course of the year.

Up: Crocs

If we hadn’t spent this year desperate for comfort and security, would Crocs have made such a strong comeback? (The company says its revenue, compared to this time last year, is up by more than 15%.)

Possibly. Its status as the Official Shoe of Quarantine was sealed more by the fashion world, with its tendency to resuscitate things once considered ugly or uncool. When Crocs began collaborating with celebrities like Post Malone and Bad Bunny, the brand went street, selling out after each new product dropped.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss the perforated rubber duckbills as just a player in the ugly/comfy shoe trend. Crocs are functional; there is a reason they’re popular among people who spend hours on their feet. Now, with their high markups on resale sites like Grailed or StockX, it can be easy to forget that Crocs aren’t just for Instagram. Health care workers have relied on the shoes to get them through long days and nights on the front lines.


Down: Closets

Remember closets? Since March, when lockdowns began in this country, few of us have had much occasion to visit the cramped and jumbled spaces Marie Kondo considers graveyards of energy and marketers spend billions trying to get us to organize. Why bother when you can just pick up yesterday’s sweats off the floor?

“Everything that was so important became meaningless,” said Sasha Charnin Morrison, style director of CBS Watch! magazine. Those 10 beloved variations of the little black dress? Forgotten. That “crucial” pair of Miu Miu platforms with 6-inch heels? Doorstops. The Zara shmattes bought in multiples because they cost so little? Hauled to Housing Works.


Up: Aviators

The category is Cool Grandpa Realness. Imagine you win the presidency. You are the oldest man ever to hold that office. Everybody by now knows that politicians micromanage every aspect of their appearance. Your challenge is to serve vitality for the benefit of younger voters without alienating the Metamucil set. No element is too trivial to be considered. (See: Mom jeans, campaign ’08.) Your suits will be slim, denims unironed, ties blue and sober, footwear confined to Oxfords and the occasional driving shoe. For a cool prop, look to shades.

It was in the before times (i.e., 2014) that Joe Biden first posted an Instagram showing his Ray-Ban aviators casually tossed on a desk. Political eternities have elapsed since Biden took these classics of military eyewear and so successfully owned them that hardly anyone recalls anymore that Gen. Douglas MacArthur, hippies, ’70s gay porn stars, Tom Cruise and Tom Ford got there first.


Up: TikTok

TikTok hit mainstream culture in 2020, knocking Facebook off the top spot to become the most downloaded app of the year as millions of content-hungry consumers stuck in lockdown looked for new ways to socialize and stay entertained. And since February, when Charli D’Amelio, one of TikTok’s top influencers, sat front row at the Prada runway show, the flirtation between the social media platform and high fashion has become increasingly impossible to ignore.


Down: Eveningwear

Remember the days of the taffeta mermaid dress? The fairy princess tulle extravaganza? Remember, even, the attention-grabbing little bits of latex that could barely be called a dress but were? Remember when party dressing was a thing?

The pandemic put a stop to traditional red carpet events, not to mention glitzy megaweddings, bar mitzvahs, birthday and anniversary celebrations — and proved disastrous for the eveningwear businesses. Celebrities did their darnedest to get back in the mood by social distancing in style at events like the American Music Awards (Hello, Jennifer Lopez in silver, midriff-baring Balmain), but it just didn’t have the same filter-down effect.


Up: Elastic Waists

Isolation may have made us all ever more aware of the importance of the ties that bind us together, but it also made us reject the belts and any other garments that physically bind us. For those more frequently at home, who were most often in a chair in front of a screen for hours on end, their exercise regimens on hold, comfort clothes became the fashion choice of first resort, even after we got over wallowing in comfort food.

It may have started with leggings and sweats, but the elastic waist has now infiltrated every part of the wardrobe. Sequin skirts and trousers? Suit pants? It’s in there. From stiff to stretch: That’s evolution for ya.


Down: Savile Row

“The most famous men’s clothing street in the world is gasping for life,” a November article on Savile Row in GFN declared. Even before the pandemic, changing tastes and rising rents had long been weighing on the 100-meter-long stretch of the Mayfair neighborhood, which now has at least 10 empty storefronts. Kilgour, French & Stanbury closed in March, following Chester Amies and Hardy Amies in 2019.

With international fittings limited by travel restrictions (70% of Savile Row tailors’ revenue comes from overseas trunk shows) and little need for power suits in lockdown, London tailors found themselves alone with their shears and an existential question: Has covid-19 broken the back of the bespoke tradition? Some tailors are now offering digital consultations and fittings, but it remains to be seen if the exactingly cut uniforms of the Masters of the Universe (and the royal family) will rise again.


Up: Masktivism

Face masks were many a thing this past year: crucial health measure, sign of communal solidarity, political football, important income stream, fashion statement and, latterly, highly visible call to action. Naomi Osaka paid homage to Black men and woman killed by police by wearing their names on her masks during the U.S. Open. Snoop Dogg, Sandra Oh and Hillary Clinton (among many celebrity others) wore “Vote” masks, and Christian Siriano handed them out to guests at his September show (which also featured a “Vote” dress).

Together they helped masks become the personal poster board of choice in 2020, proving you could be sensitive to the welfare of others and make a statement, too. After all, if you have to wear a piece of cloth around your mouth whenever you leave the house, you might as well make it say something. Literally.


Down: The Fashion Calendar

It is possible that when we look back in fashion history, February-March 2020 will be understood as the last time the hordes of editors, retailers and influencers moved in lockstep from New York to London to Milan to Paris on the four-city fashion circuit. The switch from physical to digital shows didn’t just demand a rethinking of how to unveil a collection; it freed fashion from its allegiance to the increasingly calcified slots on the official show schedules. The latest round of shows began in September and stretched through mid-December.


Down: Shopping

Malls and department stores have been declining for years, struggling to survive the rise of e-commerce. But these hardships were nothing compared to what the pandemic had in store. Even if you wanted to go shopping, it either wasn’t possible (in the early days) or advisable (um, now).

But something happened to shoppers, too, when they stopped getting dressed for work, meeting up with friends or attending events. Shopping habits were reconsidered. It became harder to justify buying something if you couldn’t imagine wearing it at home — which was a boon for the piles of loungewear ordered online but not so much for the wedding guest outfit, the job interview ensemble or the holiday party look you may have browsed for at Zara, Neiman Marcus or Jeffrey.


Up: Reinventing

the Fashion Show

When live shows were canceled, everyone in fashion suddenly started jumping on the digital bandwagon. There were fashion shows that were music videos and fashion shows that were miniseries; fashion shows that looked like perfume commercials and fashion shows that looked like documentaries. But the most unexpected alt-fashion shows of all passed up pixels for … paper dolls.

Instead of high-tech, Jonathan Anderson, founder of the JW Anderson line as well as artistic director of Loewe and a Moncler Genius collaborator, went tactile for his namesake line, shrinking his lookbooks into toy-size cutouts complete with fabric swatches and backdrops so that all his onetime invitees could construct their own do-it-yourself runways.

For Loewe, he took the same idea and up-sized it to a wallpaper roll — application at the discretion of the user — and for Moncler, he transposed it into a portable gallery: hang photos as you will. In between, he crocheted a multicolor cardigan for Harry Styles that launched a thousand TikTok challenges and gave multitudes of fans a lockdown project.

In other words, even in isolation, Anderson figured out how to create interaction and proved sometimes thinking outside the box actually means going inside the box.


Up: Converse

At some point this fall, people began noticing that Kamala Harris really liked to wear Chuck Taylors All Stars. (Elle nicknamed her “the Converse candidate.”) In an interview with Complex, the vice president acknowledged the fascination; she suspected her shoes resonated because “we all want to go back to some basic stuff about who we are as a country.”

Chuck Taylors are not political. They’re not a white pantsuit or MAGA hat. They’re a casual wardrobe staple, as ordinary and basic as any white T-shirt or pair of jeans. But they don’t feel so ordinary when the first female vice president (and woman of color) wears them. Converse, the 112-year-old brand that has sold Chucks for 103 of those years, has a sudden and unusual chance to recapture the public’s imagination.


Down: Model Hounds

Obvious win for 2020? Some of the diversity that for too long had eluded fashion. Gone are the days of lily-white catwalks and magazine covers and the seedy rationales for why things remained that way. Yet the irony is lost on few in fashion that, at precisely the moment when an epochal shift in representation occurred, the modeling business effectively shut down.

“Models have a year, maximum five, these days to hit, peak and earn,” said James Scully, a former casting director notable for his discoveries — think Liya Kebede and Alek Wek. “Now every career is stalled.”

This is bad news for the genetically blessed. But it’s also grim for the legions of model hounds that track their every move. Call it a lose-lose when models are deprived of bookings and fans can’t get a fix. Many young talents are marooned without visas in their countries of origin, and model hounds are left with no choice but to zone out on endless loops of Naomi Campbell or Linda Evangelista killing the Versace catwalk on Instagram.

“Models make fashion,” Scully said. And it’s true. If our ideals of perfection are ever-evolving, one enduring delight of fashion is seeing what variety of consumable beauty it will send down the conveyor belt next.


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