The special occasion dress is one of the oldest pieces of iconography in westernized civilization. The idea of the perfect wedding dress. The necessity of an "appropriate" yet seductive first date dress. The little black dress. The Easter Sunday dress. Dress to impress. Say "yes" to the dress. The list goes on. The dresses never stop. In fact, the needs have become so great and their purposes so clear, that some brands have designed their entire DNA around each singular purpose. Cinq à Sept was born out of an apparent need for the ideal after-work/pre-dinner cocktail dress. Allison Webb makes dresses for your wedding day - full stop. Certain brands make certain things. That's fine. But what becomes of these brands in a quarantine? Furthermore, what happens to them when it’s over?
The future of our social gatherings is unknown and presently nonexistent. Formal events are formally canceled. Summer weddings have been called off. Fall weddings are being postponed and winter weddings just aren’t fun. Business conferences will be a thing of the past. Festivals and nightclubs feel grimier than usual. And even church services seem medically démodé.
Brands that market themselves for special occasions are great until those special occasions don’t happen. Remove the cause and all of a sudden they're rendered completely useless. They insist on themselves like algebra equations. Once one side is non-existent, the other must equal zero. This is why the concept of a lifestyle brand has become so popular. It’s not the thing, it’s about how the brand makes the “thing” and how they plan to use it.
Businesses would be wise to remember that longevity comes from consumer connection, not their loyalty. Our loyalty as shoppers is dependent on need, our connection, however, drives our support. It allows brands to show up when we want them and not when we need them. For instance, I wear my high school band sweatshirt all year round. I’ve worn it with shorts and with jeans, Summer, Spring, Winter, and Fall... dress pants and to bed. I’ve never let a boyfriend borrow it and I’ll never give it away. I’m connected to it. On the other hand, I’m loyal to my favorite bar. I go there when I'm out and I want a drink. But when the bar is closed or if I’m in a different city, I still drink. I’m willing to try new things. I’m willing to replace my favorite bar, but I’m unwilling to replace my favorite sweatshirt. And like my favorite sweatshirts, my favorite brands will always have a place in my home, even when I can’t leave it. My Gucci moccasins have become house shoes. My Gant flannels are now loungewear. Vintage Levi's are better than sweatpants and I’m wearing Calvin Klein underwear more now than I ever did outside. These brands are a part of my identity because they are apart of my life and always have been. No matter where I live, how much money I’m making or what my lifestyle looks like, Gucci will always be luxurious and well-made products that I want to wrap myself in, and Levi’s will always feel like home. Yet, I have found no need for my fast fashion trend-driven tops, my statement shoes, skinny jeans, or any of the things that are a part of my “uniform” in the real world. Well, the old world.
The single occasion brand has no place in my new world because I am not attached to their higher-power, just their function. But fashion is not about function. Fashion is luxury. It is justifiable excess in the name of beauty and craftsmanship. It is self-realization and sartorial expression. It’s memory, it’s style, it’s informed choices for fantasized outcomes. Fashion can not exist in a world where an outward function is dominant. Brands that want to exist in a fashionable space - rather than be couture or loved by those who love couture - must put the fantasy over the function. And every fantasy needs a star, the customer. Companies who take their cue from the world and not on their customers are not brands at all. They are consistent producers of trinkets wrapped in a glossy marketing campaign.
This isn’t to bash single-product brands but more so a call-to-action for them to become necessary to their customers through purpose and design. To no longer rely on the balance of need, affordability, and trend to push products that no one wanted until it existed but instead to create products that answer the call of life no matter the turns it may take. Of course, lifestyle brands make single-use products but that is not the same as a single-use brand. These niche concepts fill our closets, pollute our environment, and trick our brains to crave 2D likeability rather than the 3D merge of art and commerce. This recent realization that I have - in some form - been conned into buying things that I don't actually want makes it ill and my credit card weep. It also has caused me to temporarily pull out a noticeable junk of my most recent purchases and re-access how they fit into my life. And, I've got to tell you, if the immediate future proves to be as different as the present, they may lose their spot for good.