How is everyone doing? It’s a weird week in London with what feels like the first stages of grief as the C-word-that-must-not-be-spoken takes hold. Denial, anger, and bargaining as we try to navigate rather contradictory recommendations from our government, health officials, and employers. Trying to make sure we have the required essentials should we wake up one day with a dry cough and fever and can’t leave the house for seven days (or is it 14?). Yet not panic buying as that makes things worse for those who are less able or affluent.
Selfish as it sounds, I’m not even thinking about the illness aspect of Covid-19. I have never felt physically healthier and don’t have any underlying health issues. If I catch the virus it’s likely I will suffer relatively mildly. I don’t have any over-70s in my household or people with weakened immune systems. So my immediate concern is more to do with freedom of movement, self-employment woes, and the very real knock-on effect for friends in the leisure, retail, and creative industries.
It may seem trivial or negative to write some of this, as what we all need now is hope and optimism. Yet equally I think it’s important to document our real-time feelings. Because isn’t that what blogs are for? Yes it’s all over social media, but that’s ephemeral and easily forgotten. And in the not-too-far future, we’ll want to be able to look back and remember how society really felt so we can compare and contrast.
For example, while working from home seems like a viable solution to social distancing, the reality is that home working is not easily achieved overnight. In many cases our co-workers are also our friends and we thrive on that day-to-day banter for creative brainstorming. And in fact, while I know it seems idyllic to those who work in offices, being productive when you work from home is a real discipline that you learn over time. As a freelancer, the only way I can “work from home” is if I work from a local cafe, but that option’s off the table for the moment. If you’re working from home and looking after children or teens who are social distancing, then you have a big challenge ahead. And I suspect most of the burden of care will fall on the mothers in the event that both parents are working from home. In short, good luck with all that. I suspect we will see a lot of divorces in the next few months (but possibly, lots of pregnancies too…).
In the UK we’re in shock at the advice from the government to avoid bars, restaurants, and large gatherings. Many many of my friends are DJs, club promoters, touring musicians, and restaurant or pub owners. They already struggle to keep afloat after months of Brexit uncertainty, and to have their customers discouraged to visit without an outright government ruling means they have no insurance from the inevitable fallout. These businesses will likely not survive. Other countries like France have announced immediate measures to help their self-employed citizens. So far, we haven’t had the same assurance.
For freelancers and zero-hours workers it’s the same story. For a long time I’ve felt uneasy about the fetishization of self-employment, often sexed up as entrepreneurship. Being self-employed is hard. You have to be a salesman every day. You have no benefits, no rights, and little financial stability in an economic crisis. If you’re extremely lucky you may have a pension and some savings but you’ll most likely have to dip in and out of this for cash flow. It’s a choice you make—you’d think—but actually we’re increasingly being pushed into it because it’s cheaper for businesses to hire contract staff than to pay for training and benefits.
But I digress. As someone whose job it is to write about fashion, it seems insensitive to blog about things to buy. Or places to go, when most of the museums are closing and travel is either discouraged or simply not possible. My inbox is full of desperate-sounding e-com retailers marketing daily Mother’s Day bargains and spring discounts. On beauty forums there are still a few people asking where they can buy a dupe for this or that serum, but increasingly I’m sensing people wanting to pause their spending. People seem repelled by YouTubers and Instagram influencers carrying on regardless with their sponsored posts.
Short term I think we’ll see an uptick in people with cabin fever buying online beauty treats to perk themselves up. (If they can; Amazon has just announced it’s only shipping essentials for now). I only recently realized that there’s a huge swath of society for whom retail therapy is a real compulsion. Where some people self-medicate with booze or party drugs, there are those who are addicted to beauty “must-haves.” With financial uncertainty at play, I think we’ll soon see a collective moment of clarity at the realization that no one needs all those highlighter palettes.
And that brings me—finally—to the hopeful part. Renowned trend forecaster Li Edelkoort recently spoke to Dezeen, pondering the overarching prognosis of this pandemic on societal behaviors. I agreed with her predictions. Among them, she proposed a “quarantine of consumption” in which post-corona humanity would reset its values and human labor would be respected, while we learn to be satisfied with less. I agree that the enforced isolation could encourage us to slow down, re-evaluate what we have, and maybe even reinvent ourselves. What do you really want to do? I think a new awakening of creativity could flourish; the world needs poets, satirists, and artists right now.
While I hate to think of businesses struggling, inevitably crises like this one lead to opportunity. The businesses that take a risk to do things differently are the ones that will survive and shift our mindsets for the better. Now is the time for creative collaboration too, which I’m seeing on countless Facebook groups as individuals and small businesses join forces to stay afloat. Another positive: a renewed respect for our elders. We’re all going to get old (if we’re lucky), so this is a good time to reinforce anti-ageism in Western society. And an overarching respect for our own holistic physical and mental well-being can only be a good thing,
As far as fashion’s concerned, perhaps this isn’t the best time to be talking about your OTT Net-a-Porter haul. But even if you’re self-isolating, looking good is feeling good. So I will continue to blog about fashion. But maybe more in a “buy less but better” vein. Which I do anyway—I wrote the book on it after all! And even though the immediate mood is one of impending austerity, there will come a time when we feel like shopping again and I want to feel inspired for when that day comes.
Some people reacted badly to Edelkoort’s predictions, considering it bad taste to imply that the corona deaths were for a good cause. Perhaps it was too early to hear such opinions. For now then, it’s about a day-by-day approach and doing simple self-care things that feel comforting or uplifting. Some of my coping strategies here; feel free to add yours below…
- Music – up-tempo and melodic if possible. Ramones, anyone?
- Stretching – even five minutes will put you in a different headspace.
- Meditation or self-hypnosis – a good five-minute reset if you find yourself scrolling exhaustedly. This is also a good thing to do the minute you feel yourself ruminating or catastrophizing.
- Read a book – honestly the best relief from screens and newsfeeds.
- Comedy – the new series of Curb Your Enthusiasm or the pilot.
- Worry Time – schedule your worrying for a regular set time. List the worries and write down all the possible outcomes (even the silly ones). If you’re worrying outside of the scheduled time, note down the worry then address it during Worry Time. It works!
Photo: Scott Webb via Unsplash