Caroline Elenowitz-Hess (Independent researcher). “Even Infirmities May Serve the Mode:” The American Fashion Industry’s Response to Pandemic, 1918 and 2020
A time of crisis tests the fashion industry’s role: how can a world of adornment and fantasy respond to pain, trauma, and fear? During the 1918 influenza pandemic, the American fashion industry showed two different faces: on the one hand, the luxury magazines Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar barely mentioned the pandemic, treating it as a lighthearted inconvenience or even the occasion for fashion trends, while trade newspaper Women’s Wear Daily reported the anxiety and financial struggles of the industry, including obituaries of many industry figures felled by the disease. In our current pandemic, the fashion industry faces the same struggle, trying to balance painful realities and palliative escapism, even while facing an entirely different world. Examining coverage from 1918-1922 offers a point of comparison for understanding how fashion has faced—and then effaced—pandemic.