The first few weeks of lockdown were not the strongest for me, sartorially speaking. While friends embraced waist-up dressing, appearing on Zoom calls in embellished headbands and statement collars to accessorise their quarantinis, I reached for elasticated waistbands. Loungewear in various shades of grey (mostly decorated with baked bean splats) became my look du jour. At first it was comforting – snuggly, soft – but soon the rotation of leggings and sweaters became rather depressing. A mood-boosting change of tactic was needed and quick. And so, the weekend I was supposed to be jetting off for a few days in Portugal, I put on my favourite holiday dress; sunflower yellow and with a ruffled hem, it transported me to my favourite beach bar – I could almost taste the Vinho Verde. The following day I put on a striped top and white jeans and channeled Riviera chic. Since then, I haven’t looked back. So long track pants - I’m doing escapist dressing.
The art of dressing like you’re going somewhere much more fabulous than the fridge (again), escapist dressing harnesses the transformative power of clothes, providing the break from reality many of us are craving. What role does fashion play in a pandemic? To take us far, far away – even if just for a moment.
I’m not the only one employing the method; from A-listers to editors and even royalty, the stylish and fabulous are getting on board. Think Victoria Beckham’s holiday-ready, homemade tie-dye T-shirts, Alexa Chung’s festival-chic '70s inspired denim, and Man Repeller founder Leandra Medine Cohen’s beachy boho blouses, sunglasses and sarongs. Appearing on the BBC via video call last week, the Duchess of Cambridge sported a boating Breton from LA-based fashion label JoosTricot. Worn during last summer’s King’s Cup in Cowes, could it be she was harking back to sunnier days sailing the Solent? Quite possibly.
On the high street, escapist dressing is taking hold as the desire for holiday-inspired lockdown looks grow. Me + Em has reported a 31 per cent rise in dress sales year on year (the tiered frill cotton maxi, £115 and smocked summer slub, £95, are leading the charge), while Whistles has seen an uptick in sales of sandals and shorts. At John Lewis & Partners, sales of suitcase favorites from sunglasses to Bretons are up, and global fashion search platform, Lyst, tells me searches for white denim and tie-dye have increased – it looks like VB isn’t the only one doing haute hippie this season.
The real beauty of escapist dressing is that it's easy to master at home, especially with the good weather set to stay. Now's the time to rediscover those summer favourites once reserved for trips abroad. Heading to the supermarket? Why not do so in a broderie anglaise blouse and cropped denim? Grab a pain rustique and, hey presto, you're practically in Provence. Off for an afternoon in the garden? Put on a printed maxi, pour an Aperol Spritz and channel Mediterranean vibes.
If your summer stash could do with an update, may I suggest starting with a relaxed-fit midi dress: the sort you’d throw on post holiday-evening shower and aftersun application. Coined the ‘breezable dress’, these versatile pieces not only speak to a carefree attitude, they score high on comfort-factor, meaning they’re just the thing for floating around the house in. Plus, with the addition of jewellery and heeled sandals, they make the perfect dinner partner when restaurants reopen. Take a look at AND/OR’s gingham check dress (£89, johnlewis.com) and Rixo’s Eliza dress (£335, rixo.co.uk) – the latter could even be dressed up for early autumn weddings.
For sunny trips beyond the front gate, a lightweight jumpsuit fits the bill; think linen styles usually worn for sightseeing adventures, now repurposed for your daily walk. A current best seller (and currently on sale), the Nora linen jumpsuit from Whistles (£111.75, whistles.com) comes with a flattering cropped length and belted waist. Team with a raffia tote and spritz of citrus perfume. Or go full globetrotter chic in A-line shorts – try Jigsaw’s cotton poplin (£60, jigsaw-online.com) and Frame’s pleated linen (£225, net-a-porter.com) – worn with a Duchess-approved Breton T-shirt or folksy cotton blouse.
And for those seeking just a hint of getaway, try adding some holiday jewellery to your everyday outfits. Think statement earrings, layered pendants and stacked bracelets adorned with beach-combed shells, pearls and colourful stones. Monica Vinader and Pilgrim have myriad covetable pieces.
While our summer adventures are on hold for the foreseeable – and we might not be needing that bikini any time soon – a few optimistic nods to brighter days ahead can do nothing but help lift the mood. And a swishy midi plus puka shell anklet trumps bean-splattered tracksuits in the feel-good stakes, no matter where in the world you are.