There is nothing like fashion to divide the population. What could be more frivolous than talking about clothes while there is an insurrection in Washington and a Covid crisis across the world? The conventional wisdom is that we shouldn’t speak or write about anything that isn’t “serious”. But we do it anyway.
The announcement this week of the Sex and the City franchise’s return had parts of the media in a frenzy. The series will come back for a 10-episode run in a reboot called And Just Like That. And, just like that, our world was turned upside down.
When Carrie Bradshaw made her debut in the 1998 sitcom, her Manolo Blahnik shoes were the envy of fashionistas everywhere. While 20 years have passed, what people remember about the show is the shopping . . . and maybe the sex.
In the new year, Vanessa and I — a psychologist and a journalist respectively — chatted about how we spent our days now that we are housebound. We found that large parts of our time were given over to scrolling through fashion websites. Dior sent me an email announcing their Tout de Joie limited edition perfume collection “exclusively dressed” in gorgeous Dior packaging. Net-a-Porter told me I didn’t want “to miss today’s new arrivals”. Boy, they were right. I didn’t, but I did.
At least I had the pleasure of looking, and for a while, disengaging. It certainly beats staring at four walls or cleaning my kitchen cupboards.
When Vanessa couldn’t sleep, she ordered two coats at 3.30am — one for her, one for her daughter. I think it’s because I told her I had ordered a summer duvet at 1am the night before, and a light fixture from Italy. Theoretically, these buy me a mood and a lifestyle, which in turn will no doubt make my life better. Whatever the reality, we keep chasing the fantasy.
Trawling through website after website is a welcome distraction from the long hours we spend indoors. We get drawn into the vortex of looking at new makeup or cosmetics or shoes, bags and clothes that help deal with the monotony of being stuck at home for 24 hours a day. It distracts us from the days that roll into one another. It’s no surprise that house renovations are up.
Spring cleaning was all the rage during the first lockdown, in the hope that we would create order from chaos. Online shopping gives us the same temporary relief from the situation around us.
Sometimes we need a bit of frivolity, a break from the doom-scrolling that can affect our mental health. We have enough reality surrounding us, and, while we may not be bringing peace to the world, it is at least entertaining.
The women in Sex and the City were not just shoppers and lovers. That was part of the point. Carrie Bradshaw was a journalist. Charlotte York was an art dealer, Miranda Hobbs was a lawyer and Samantha Jones, a publicist. As soon as we mention clothes, it becomes vacuous, which could have something to do with the fact that it is seen as something women do. Maybe women love shopping because it has to do with controlling our destiny. It’s definitely about the endorphins. We know that buying things on sale releases almost twice as many.
Shopping can be pure pleasure, even if you don’t buy anything. And sadly, Covid has challenged many of us financially. Often this stops people making a purchase, but not always. Some of us scroll with abandon regardless, akin to browsing the high street shops when your wallet is empty.
Most of all it can be fun, although there are people who don’t think you should have fun when we are in the middle of a pandemic. And there are lots of people for whom Covid has irreparably changed their lives. That’s precisely why Vanessa and I have never needed to escape reality as much as in the past year.
That must be one explanation for the queues that snake around city blocks outside post offices. It can’t be that people write that many letters. There are few things to bring the same level of excitement as the arrival of that parcel from Amazon, especially when there’s nothing else to look forward to, even if it is only laundry detergent. Or returning it. Oh, and the pleasure we get from new things.
Perhaps there is so much hoo-ha because, in general, fashion is about women. Still, you only have to look at the stars of Sex in the City, or someone like Amal Clooney, to see that fashion doesn’t define them or us. There is a great deal of pressure on women to be attractive, and we live in a world where we are judged on our appearance. Sometimes, though, girls just wanna have fun.