Clothing Loses Most of Its Meaning

In a world of people spending most days at home, clothing is losing most of its meaning. Partly as a result, clothing sales have fallen off by half.

People look to clothing as an expression. It shows style, individuality, and attention to detail. Most of this effect is lost when one is seen mainly in an on-screen image the size of a business card.

Wrinkles, stains, and wear disappear at this reduced resolution. The difference between the finest fabric and the cheapest cannot be seen. Detailed prints become a blur.

When the camera captures little more than head and shoulders, no one knows what pants you are wearing or whether you are wearing shoes. Only the top half of the shirt counts for anything.

Clothing can be an expression of variety but that too is reduced on the small screen. With ten shirts covering a range of colors and design, you have almost maxed out the capacity of the webcam to show something different from one day to the next.

The most critical function of clothing, as protection from the elements, barely matter to anyone spending day after day indoors. This especially affects shoes, which wear out faster on pavement than they do in the softer confines of home.

At the same time that the way people use clothing has changed, the shopping experience has changed too. Going into a store to pick out and try on clothing is not an option for anyone obliged to stay home, or in an area where clothing stores have been ordered to close.

Clothing has long been one of the most impulsive categories for shopping, but that experience is different and may even disappear entirely when shoppers are obliged to stay home.

Shopping online for clothing has many of the same limitations as wearing clothing for the webcam. How can one tell that the shirt in the small photograph on the screen is any better than the shirt one already owns?

It is no wonder, then, if many shoppers have stopped buying clothing entirely and total sales of clothing have fallen by more than half.

In my case, I am not even on camera on most work days. I find myself wearing all the comfortable items that are too shabby or stained to wear to an office. These include badly scuffed but comfortable summer walking shoes. I would not want to be seen in them but there is no risk of that at home where the webcam will never show my feet. I am wearing stained jeans that are also not office-worthy. Meanwhile, my better clothing is not taking any wear, so that I will not quickly have a need to replace any of it.

Clothing will regain most of its meaning as the pandemic fades away in the coming years, but not everything will go back to the way it was. Many people will adapt to a lower level of style and a reduced quantity and variety of clothing and will never quite go back to the way they were doing clothing before.

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