Fashion famously reflects the times, from the low hemlines of the Great Depression to the fun and flirty styles of the Swinging Sixties. If Brexit does go into effect, there is the big question of how British fashion will change in the upcoming months, even years.
Will there be a rise in “quintessentially” British tailoring and heritage labels popping up across central London? Or will broad nationalism be rejected, with Brits opting to buy anything but British to signify an allegiance with our European neighbours?
For the first time since 1923, polls will open in December for the upcoming General Election. Politicians are working around the clock to sway voters towards what they believe is the best step forward for the country. Meanwhile, the fate of those living and working in the UK from foreign countries remain up in the air.
The fashion industry creates a world of fantasy through which we can escape but even this world can’t escape from the impact of the very real potential of Brexit. Whatever the outcome, what we Brits decide to put on before we head out will change. Here are the five ways Brexit will impact what we wear.
Colour will become increasingly political
Dr. Caroyln Mair, fashion psychologist and author of The Psychology of Fashion, predicts that the clothes worn post-Brexit will take a darker turn. “Given Brexit will probably trigger a recession, we can see from previous economic recessions that fashion design has favoured longer hemlines and darker colours,” she shares. Rich hues like black and navy, which are traditionally associated with urban city life, will become more like a uniform for those affected by the country’s change. And a more modest approach to fashion will likely take hold. This could symbolise an adoption of clothing as a protective device with a collective call for reflection.
However, trend forecaster David Shah doesn’t foresee the whole of Britain becoming a sea of muted tones. He suspects that the other extreme, opting to wear dazzlingly bright colours, will rise as well: “We’re seeing a stronger use of colour and a stronger use of costume. In terms of Brexit, I think there’s going to be a tremendous split between the two.”
If recent news suggests anything, he makes a strong case. Last month, Hollywood actress and activist Jane Fonda was arrested for demonstrating against the dangers of climate change just outside the United States Capitol during her recurring Fire Drill Fridays protests. She was handcuffed wearing a punchy, red coat. And last year, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives, was seen wearing a burnt orange Max Mara coat as she left a meeting with Trump over the impending government shutdown. The coat sent a pointed message that she was ready to fight, even if it meant setting the House ablaze.
The functionality of clothing will shift across party lines
Shah suspects there will also be a divide in how people dress, drawn along political lines. Labour voters will opt for more toned down looks, foregoing flashy pieces. “Corbyn’s policies are incredibly left, so I think anyone supporting them are going to adopt a more functional dress,” he says. “Simplification and reduction will be a uniform for those who have not come out of the economy as well as the others.”
Thanks to the current retro wave and fascination with all things nineties, minimalism is already at the top of the fashion agenda. Shah notes that that period in fashion was all about “less is more,” seen in architect John Pawson’s concrete interiors for Jigsaw and Calvin Klein’s flagship store on Madison Avenue. “It’s exactly the same trend we have again today.”
With higher tariffs pending, fashion is going to get more expensive
From a business standpoint, the British fashion industry relies heavily on the current trade arrangements that have existed within the EU. The British Fashion Council (BFC) projects a 900 million loss in revenue in just one year, resulting from rising tariffs. Additional costs would then be dropped onto the luxury designers and high street stores consumers rely on for their wardrobe refreshes. Not only would revenue suffer because of the spike, so would jobs in an industry that is estimated to be worth £32 billion.
Dr. Mair highlights the bleak consequences for fashion, deal or no deal. “Brexit will make it more difficult for UK nationals to work or trade in Europe,” she explains. “Labour costs will increase as the talent pool diminishes and the cost of raw materials imported from the EU will increase. We have been warned of the financial costs of Brexit not only to fashion and other industries, but to individuals who are likely to find they have less money to spend on more expensive goods.”
Fashion’s education is threatened to stall
Designers haven’t shied away from sharing their thoughts on the political ordeal either, many openly opposing Brexit. 90% of fashion designers voted to remain, according to a BFC survey. Fashion education and aspiring talent will be hit too. The University of the Arts London, which includes revered fashion institutions like Central Saint Martins and the London College of Fashion, has a reputation for pooling the best in international talent. Students hailing from over 130 countries attend the university’s six colleges. Hard political borders could mean a stall in the transfer of creativity and sustainable troubleshooting within higher education partners across the EU.
Fashion will become a basis for connection
In times of political change, when society is on the cusp of experiencing a significant shift in how people are able to live and conduct business, fashion has become a tool to reflect the mood of entire communities. The ongoing Hong Kong protests show how dress is adopted to signal political frustration. Protestors are clad in black, a colour often worn in mourning. And the mask, originally worn by civilians to protect their identities while they march in the streets, has quickly symbolised an opposition to police brutality and the standstill on proposed democratic reforms within the territory.
That said, there is of course no crystal ball that gives us a definitive answer as to how fashion will evolve post-Brexit. But Dr. Mair wonders if Brits might just want to regain a sense of normalcy, using fashion as a gateway to move forward after such a stark, political divide. “I imagine many of us will want to align with our European neighbours rather than distinguish ourselves from them further.”