How the Great Recession and the Pandemic Changed Fashion and Shopping

  • Economic downturns have changed the way we shop for clothes.
  • After the Great Recession, fast fashion became the norm for millennials who dress professionally on a budget.
  • The pandemic has been a shift towards second-hand clothes as Gen Z seeks nostalgia and good vibes.

You can thank the economy for your outfit for the day.

The last two recessions have shaped key sectors of the fashion industry over the past 15 years. The 2007 financial crisis accelerated the rise of fast fashion among millennials in much the same way as the coronavirus


has accentuated the shift towards the second-hand clothing market among Gen Z. While both generations shop in both markets, each has served as a trendsetter during the economic downturns they grew up in.

In her new book, “Dress Code: Unlocking Fashion From the New Look to Millennial Pink,” Elle fashion editor Véronique Hyland explores how quickly fashion has become the norm for millennial shoppers. in the post-Great Recession era.

“‘High-low’ first became a personal style directive, then more of a command, for efforts,” she wrote, and went on to explain the term. “Millennial women, who entered the workforce during a recession, were urged to mimic a proper business appearance by mixing fast fashion items, often runway knockoffs, with ‘investment pieces’. “at a time when investments of all kinds seemed precarious.”

That advice was given less often to men, she added, because women were under more pressure to balance staying fashionable and dressing appropriately for the office. “You didn’t want to be too provocative or stuffy; you wanted to come across as older and more bossy while still looking cool,” she wrote.

“Fast fashion was a trick that would help you easily cross class lines, or at least that’s how I saw it,” she added. She remembers wearing consignment versions of Prada with fast fashion pieces to her first fashion publishing job to “pass herself off” as her peers, though she still lives with her parents, pays off student debt, and live from paycheck to paycheck.

Fast fashion soon became normalized, Hyland wrote, as spotting a bargain became “a way to advertise that you tasted like champagne on a beer budget.”

Savings become the new norm

But fast fashion has sustainability issues that are of great concern to Gen Z: waste that contributes to the climate crisis and workers subject to unethical work practices, such as 16-hour workdays and wages below the living wage.

The sustainable fashion industry has grown in response, with fashion rental companies, thrift stores and ethically made clothing brands becoming more popular. It’s a shift that the coronavirus recession has accelerated.

A recent report by retail analytics firm GlobalData and online thrift store ThredUp predicted the second-hand market will reach $77 billion by 2025, up from $30 billion in 2021, as the estimated Jefferies last April. About a quarter of the second-hand market is made up of resale clothing, which Jefferies says will grow 39% annually over the same period, eventually accounting for more than half of the market.

Jefferies predicts the second-hand apparel market will make up a mid-teen percentage of the overall apparel market over the next decade, driven by online resale, with Gen Z leading the way.

Socially and environmentally conscious, it only makes sense that Gen Z is leaning towards more ethical and eco-friendly shopping. But durability isn’t the only factor drawing Gen Zers to the second-hand market. The pandemic has sent Gen Z down a nostalgic path, turning to millennial-reminiscent trends such as indie sleaze and Y2K fashion as solace during times of economic instability. Considered vintage by Gen Z, clothes for these trends are best found at thrift stores.

Emily Farra wrote for Vogue about the rise of vintage clothing in 2020, there’s something to be said for a more subtle statement of vintage clothing instead of a flashy logo in a pandemic world.

“In a tough year that saw staggering unemployment and countless businesses shuttered, the shift to vintage and second-hand might come down to a desire for less visible fashion,” she wrote.


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