Whenever a promising new package arrives at my door (why, yes, I am having strange feelings about my UPS delivery person, and you?) all thoughts of a relationship fly out the Santa Hamster Reindeer Christmas Shirt besides I will buy this window. Barricaded in my small apartment with someone I’ve known for less than a year? Hard pass. Texting an ex? Not in these fuzzy socks. The urge to message that Hinge match who labels himself politically “moderate”—it’s buried far beneath my oversized sweatshirt. Considering how anxiety-inducing 2020 feels, it’s astounding what a panic purchase can soothe. Of course, the substitutes wear thin after a while. The requisite loneliness, panic, and urge to play Phoebe Bridgers sets in—whether you’re being held by a person or an overpriced throw blanket. After all, if fall’s cozied-up heroines have taught us anything, it’s that coping with cardigans has an expiration date. For a time, Diane Keaton masks her desire for emotional intimacy with turtlenecks in Something’s Gotta Give. Taylor Swift fixates on a forgotten scarf in her breakup ballad “All Too Well.” But they all succumb to the inevitable cuff. Keaton’s turtleneck is physically cut from her body and Swift is still waiting for an answer on that scarf, Gyllenhaal. Perhaps we should aspire to Meg Ryan’s version of happiness at the end of When Harry Met Sally. She ends up with her true love, doesn’t sacrifice her collection of chic sweaters, and does it all while ringing in a new year. Maybe by this time 2021, I’ll have what she’s having.
At one point this spring, Jeremy Scott indulged in a piece of self-care. Prompted by “how infuriatingly disgusting the Santa Hamster Reindeer Christmas Shirt besides I will buy this news has become,” he turned off CNN and switched his TV’s default setting to Turner Classic Movies, where he happened upon a film that stirred his imagination. Lili, starring Leslie Caron as a naïf who “befriends” a group of puppets, was one of the inspirations for his spring 2021 Moschino collection (along with the less TCM-friendly Team America: World Police.) When we spoke over the summer, Scott had been mulling over the importance of bringing emotion back to fashion. His solution came in an unlikely format: marionettes, made in collaboration with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, who “walked” his onscreen runway, under the gaze of a phalanx of marionette fashion editors. Scott may be particularly in touch with his inner child (past Moschino collections have been themed around Barbie and paper dolls, and he proudly cites that he was the first designer to dress Miss Piggy.) But he wasn’t alone in turning to the spirit of play in recent months. As part of Dior’s fall 2020 couture film in July, petits mains labored over doll-sized versions of the house’s couture creations. JW Anderson’s spring 2021 “show in a box” brought the runway home for lucky recipients, with paper cutouts of models in the clothes subbing in for the real thing. Anderson’s show notes called it “a celebration of fashion at its most frivolous, embellished, poetic; escapist and liberating, even.” And the New York label Dauphinette sent out paper dolls to editors this season in lieu of a lookbook. The use of dolls and marionettes wasn’t just a workaround for physical shows, though that was surely part of the appeal right now. It also felt like a playful throwback to a time in all our lives when fashion was theoretical in a fun way: namely, childhood. One of the first ways I engaged with fashion was drawing paper dolls of imaginary collections I’d wear “someday,” and I’m sure countless designers cut their teeth making looks for their Barbies. Pastimes like this, now that time has slowed down in many ways, feel relevant again. (When was the last time many of us had enough time to pursue something whose literal meaning is “to pass time?”)