How crises have affected fashion through history



Throughout history, the fashion industry has been affected by crises – but how exactly? Discover three interesting examples.


According to investment firm Bernstein, “the first half of 2020 is likely going to be the worst in the history of the modern luxury goods business.” Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the fashion industry has seen sales decline massively. As physical stores close, businesses hoped for some solace from e-commerce; however, consumption has also slowed down, and the end still doesn’t look near. Throughout history, the fashion industry has been affected by crises – but how exactly? Discover three big examples. 




The ‘roaring twenties’ was a decade full of glamour and expense. But, the 1929 stock market crash left the boyish flapper style in the past. As expensive materials were no longer accessible, cheaper materials like nylon were used instead. Women turned to making their own clothes, reverting back to more conservative styles with longer skirts and natural waistlines. The Great Depression meant that women from all classes could be fashionable, regardless of wealth. The slashing of prices meant that businesses needed to make garments quickly and cheaply, and the invention of the zip made this possible. The practical style was also needed as women entered the working world. They needed affordable clothes that were in style. Despite the crash, the elegance and femininity of 1930’s fashion was not lost. Some styles such as the cloche hats and short hairstyle continued throughout the 1930’s and even into the early 1940’s.




When the war started, clothing restrictions were put in place. This meant that materials were replaced and the range of clothes available were limited. In the UK, the industry began using red dye in clothes as green and brown dye was being used for military uniform. Laddered stockings became a cause for concern for women in the UK, so they began painting on stockings, even including the seam at the back!

The restrictions on fashion also meant women began making their own clothes a lot more. With the men at war, women made smart clothes out of their unused suits. The ‘siren suit’ became very popular during the war. Essentially a onesie, the suit could be easily put on over pajamas if you had to escape to the air raid shelter. Stylish additions were often made, including bell bottoms, puffed shoulders, and detachable belts.

Styles became minimal but practical during the war. However, the rationing didn’t stop fashion from flourishing. Making clothes from curtains, unused suits, and other recycled materials acted as an escape from the hardships of reality. In order to raise morale, fashion began creating clothing with patriotic patterns and colours. Fashion as a political or powerful statement is something we can see throughout history, showing that it will continue to prevail even during the toughest of times.




The 1980’s AIDS crisis shook the fashion industry, and protest dressing became popular in order to fight against the lack of action and response from governments. In such a polarised time, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was formed in New York City. Six activists formed the group to highlight the lack of response from government and the increasing homophobia surrounding the disease. They re-appropriated the badge used in Nazi concentration camps and wore them on clothing as protest.

The industry was very conscious about how the crisis was affecting all sorts of creatives within the industry. Kenneth Cole launched a media campaign to reduce stigma and Anna Wintour hosted a gala and shopping bonanza, raising $3 million for AIDS research. Nearly everyone in the fashion industry was affected by AIDS and the crisis continues to affect the industry today. As Simon Doonan said, ‘To those of you who were not around, I can only say this: You have no idea how lucky you are.’


+ Words: Shaelei Parmar

Shaelei Parmar is a Fashion and Sustainability Blogger. She recently graduated with a degree in English and Drama and is beginning her journey as a writer and sustainable consumer. She has her own Blog.

Connect with her on Instagram: Shaelei