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Working out what we will be wearing as we ease back into a more open life as the pandemic diminishes is getting harder. For a long time, there was a belief that we would enter a new Roaring Twenties type of lifestyle, exuberantly dressing up to enjoy the release from months of misery. The arrival of Regency diversions such as Bridgerton onto the small screen, along with some of the concepts on current digital catwalks, reinforces this positive feeling.
But given that the period of life in pyjamas and soft clothing, with workwear required only from the waist up, has now extended from a few months into a year, have we become too accustomed to casualwear to ever fully return to stiletto heels, Goodyear welted brogues, dark suits and ties? Who will wear this weird garb in the future?
The numbers are clearly thinning, but we saw some endangered survivors at the US Presidential Inauguration Ceremony. Politicians have struggled to progress their dress and can still look best in more traditional well-made clothes, ties included. The new administration moved back to the path made popular by Michelle Obama of “fashion diplomacy”, also followed, to a degree, by Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, in the UK. They mixed affordable off-the-shelf clothing with the work of local up and coming designers.
Given the cold temperatures, it was no surprise that leather gloves were prominent, although their makers were harder to uncover. Both First Lady Dr Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris wore gloves that appear to have come from the small New York house Wing & Weft Gloves who were recently passed the baton of the Lacrasia Gloves company founded by Jay Ruckel and Lacrasia Duchein. Thirty years ago, I remember trying to sell them leather, and most of the conversation was about the various Hollywood and Broadway productions for which they made bespoke gloves. Now, just as the founding couple retire and Jay completes his training of a new apprentice master glovemaker, the company has also become part of the New York fashion ecosystem, offering a unique service thought likely to die out, and creating an opportunity for an entire industry. Even the meme-worthy knitted mitts of Bernie Sanders are good publicity for the glove industry.
The First Lady’s gloves tell a story
Wing & Weft Gloves have taken the opportunity to tell the story of the manufacture of Dr Jill Biden’s gloves through a fascinating series of Instagram posts. These describe the linkage of the company back to Gloversville in upstate New York, the separate sourcing of their suede and grain glove leathers and how they start to build a wide range of colours with a trip to the UK to choose leathers of Ethiopian hairsheep leathers manufactured by Pittards, which they describe as “aka glove leather heaven! Shelves and shelves of gorgeous glove leather”.
As we watch such events as the inauguration, we are perhaps being shown sight of the future. Certain roles such as politics and some finance and “city” roles will stay with formal dress, but the wagons are circling. The world of work has changed, and many office jobs where fairly formal dress was obligatory, will move to a blended form, and staff will seek a different look for the days at work. Not the world of the T-shirt and jeans, nor even the polo shirt and khakis, but something with more style and quality. One can see some of the traditional European leather shoemakers already showing the way.
It also reminds us of the inherent complexity of supply chains at a time when so many are talking of reshoring. Both the US under Trump and now with Biden like the idea of making more at home, but in demanding this, they have to remember that not all offshoring is about low-cost labour: much has to do with access to skills or raw materials. The UK has discovered a minefield in the rules of origin as a result of leaving the EU, one that was quite predictable but conveniently ignored in the referendum debate.
And in the new, softer wear, there is an opportunity to reintroduce the world to leather not only in new designs of leather footwear built on ancient skills, but also into new outerwear designs to fit the modern man and woman. So many of our current styles are trapped in the traditional. This should be the moment for leather to re-enter the consumer mind, only responsibly made and reminding the consumer of its sustainability.
Finally, while there is some evidence that Bridgerton is creating enquiries for long sleeved gloves, the everyday gloves worn in many parts of the world are likely to extend their use despite global warming and the other challenges of modern life. Gloves offer a simple protection, both real and psychological, in times of pandemic. In one way or another, it is going to be hanging round for a very long time yet: and leather gloves in particular look good and they make you feel good.
January 27, 2021
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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