The Youth Lab


Lockdown, shelter in place or cocooning - whatever you call your current status - the global necessity for us to stay in our homes has removed one of our key motivations to get the glad rags on and focus on fashion. With literally nowhere to go, it’s been a struggle to find something to get all dressed up for. But style always finds a way, and this week we’re looking at how fashion isn’t letting the global pandemic stop it from flexing its fab.

They’ll never mask fashion but they’ll bring fashion to masks. This 52INSIGHTS looks at youth’s lockdown COVID-19 fashion, from ‘staying in-in loungewear’ and PJ’s to facemasks.


The immediate weeks following the outbreak saw the ritual of “getting dressed” fall swiftly by the wayside in favour of 24/7 pyjamas. The wearing of bras was deemed unnecessary (after about two days) with some wondering will they ever go back? Some even posted pics with their redundant bras filling in as facemasks!

But fashion won’t be stifled. Rising like an achingly stylish phoenix from the COVID-19 rubble, fashion almost immediately found its way back to our hearts. If we’re going to stay in, we’re going to stay in, stylishly. This hasn’t seen a return of young people getting dressed dressed, rather, a huge rise in people buying much lovelier pyjamas. With staying in literally becoming the new going out, ASOS was quick to pivot to loungewear lusts with their new staying “in-in” category featuring an extensive range of loungewear. In this time of deep psychological discomfort, many young people are opting for physical comfort through their attire.


Working from home (with endless zoom meetings) has meant that many young people have found themselves looking to balance comfort and professionalism, keeping it ‘business up top’ and ‘comfy’ from the waist down. There’s been an increase in the purchase of work tops, but not bottoms (many of us opting for our fav flannels instead). A Japanese company even went one better by creating dedicated work-from-home pyjamas that create the illusion of wearing a work-appropriate top-half. A step too far? Maybe, but no one’s going to begrudge a bit of online shopping at the moment - it even has a name. ‘The Lipstick Effect’ describes how consumers spend money on small indulgences during times of personal challenge and economic downturns. Anyone else on first name terms with their delivery people since the crisis? That’s the lipstick effect all over our faces.


Speaking of faces, one of the most significant trends to come out of the pandemic fallout has been the widespread adoption of facemasks. Early on in the crisis, crowds panic buying PPE masks compounded a global shortage of these essential items - putting frontline health workers at serious risk. Official health and government direction on the effectiveness of wearing masks remained somewhat inconsistent until the W.H.O. released a statement in early April saying they should be used (along with other measures) to prevent the spread of disease. It has become apparent that masks are here to stay, sparking one of the biggest commodity booms of all time!


Billie Eilish was an early adopter of the now necessary accessory, sporting a range of masks before the crisis even hit. As such, she was a natural choice for a collab with Bravado, a music merchandise company who’ve launched the initiative We’ve Got You Covered which donates the proceeds to charity.

Smaller designers have been turning their creative focus to masks too, and cannot keep up with demand. Designer Thea Shannon initially began making masks and offering them on her Instagram page but was so overwhelmed with interest that she set up a dedicated mask website and now releases mask drops at a specific time each week, all of which are selling out within minutes:

“In the beginning, I was trying to think of some way I could help. I am a designer starting out and had lots of printed and plain cotton fabrics at home. I was hearing all about healthcare and frontline workers not being able to get the supply of PPE that was needed! So I saw my window and put my skills to good use! I was making and donating masks for anyone who needed them! The response was more than I could have ever imagined. I’ve been adding batches to the website weekly now. I have loved being able to give something back and spread some positivity during this uncertain time.”

Many young face-mask-makers (and wearers) have hopped on the trend, not only to look good, but to feel that they are helping in some way (and to do some good too). It is generally felt that profiting from the crisis feels wrong and highly opportunistic. UK designer Florence Bridge is donating a portion of her mask proceeds to the UK’s fuel the frontline charity and several Irish designers are doing the same across a range of different charities, in keeping with the wave of benevolence seen since the outbreak.

Other young designers and creative folk (like Studio Folklore and Sustainable Fashion Dublin) are helping people with tutorials on how to make their own face masks - not just a responsible fashion accessory, but a way to pass the time while getting creative too.


For now at least! The increase in self-expression through masks has been swift. If the new normal sees us all wearing masks, we may as well make them fashionable and big brands have been quick to jump on. If you need more proof that that the trend is here to stay, Nancy Pelosi’s mask coordination style has made it to the pages of Vogue - the fashion bible is also touting masks as the trend of the summer.

“‘I’m coming round to the idea. Initially, I resisted, but now, if I’ve to leave the house I have my ‘bag, keys, phone, facemask’ routine check. I know it’s not going to prevent everything, but if I’ve to go into a shop, I’d rather other people in the shop thought I was being conscientious about not spreading my own germs, instead of being a bit casual or irresponsible about it. And sure if they’re creeping into regular use, as they clearly are, we may as well have lovely ones. I’ve already bought two and I plan on getting more.” - Naomi, 26


Change is the norm. A key attribute of this generation of young people is their ability to deal with adversity (and change) through creativity. Young people are embracing change and are expressing themselves through it. The widespread adoption of masks shows how young people are channelling flexibility, agility and creativity as the ‘new normal’ emerges.

It is also a key example of how much young people value being able to show care for one another and for society. While being useful, it’s important to stay socially-conscious while evolving to the new “now.” It is crucial now more than ever, that brands (no matter how big or small) avoid opportunism when it comes to all areas of communication - but particularly in the case of COVID-19 fashion and face masks. The innovation and creativity of young designers especially is showcasing the importance of channelling creativity in a way that gives back to the wider community - to benefit people who really need to keep themselves safe.

And it is important to remember the very human needs for comfort and fun during these times. Young people are open to exploring and discovering things that will soothe, and provide some joy and indeed fun at a time of incredible uncertainty and pressure. Embrace that Lipstick Effect!

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