Lockdown Fashion: Jenna’s story

How are people dressing when in lockdown and isolation situations? How is this different to the way they dressed before? Has it affected their sense of self? This project aims to shine a light on those changes and reveal some of the many and varied personal stories relating to fashion and dress in 2020. Today’s interview is with Jenna Rossi-Camus. Jenna is a London-based fashion curator, historian and lecturer. Her practice-based doctoral research examined fashion graphic satire and developed a proposal for a site-responsive fashion exhibition at Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill. Jenna is a senior lecturer and co-course leader of the MA in International Fashion Marketing at Regent’s University. She is also a visiting lecturer at UAL (London College of Fashion and Chelsea College of Arts), and has taught cultural and historical studies at The Royal College of Art and Winchester School of Art.

1) How would you describe your style now?

My regular style is a mix of vintage, designer, home-sewn and high street. I have many garments I’ve worn and loved for years, but usually have a pretty steady influx of inexpensive “new” clothes from charity shops or select online second-hand purchases. I think I definitely dress the part of a fashion nerd, and often dress thematically to what I am lecturing on, or about.

I don’t see the lockdown as having essentially affected my style – despite the closure of charity shops! However, it has definitely altered my way of thinking about getting dressed and the relationship I have with my clothes. Getting dressed is for me like setting a scene, or putting together a story. I know that clothes are never neutral, even when the intention is to seem nonchalant – which I rarely am. Shifting to virtual lecturing and tutoring has actually given me more time to think about the stories that dress tells, to realise that how those clothes can be seen can be controlled differently (by the webcam) and that there is a lot more space to think about how clothes feel and make one feel. It is a real test of the idea that we dress for ourselves.

2) What is your daily routine for getting dressed to remain at home? If you don’t have one, why is that?

Years of having worked freelance in creative roles afforded me a good deal of experience in working from home – so I haven’t gone into pyjama mode or dressing only from the waist up. I have been able to more consistently establish a ritual for getting dressed since I am never rushing out of the house; regretting that I forgot to accessorise, or that it’s raining too hard to wear the purple Westwood shoes. I lay out the outfit before getting in the shower, then I might change or add to it. I can give more time to the story – and also what part of it might be worth telling or showing.

All of the above has made my approach to be more considered, I would have to admit. It does come with some urge – perhaps anxiety – to capture what the new thought processes are. Also while thinking about how to meaningfully reflect on the macro effects of the lockdown on the fashion industry. Putting on snappy vintage blouses and scarab jewellery is all fine as a playful way to embody what I teach – but I also feel a need to consider how to carry on with teaching fashion in the climate to come. Not with a nihilistic attitude. And in fact, this experience is helping me to think more about how to encourage mindfulness and critical engagement with how clothes are produced, marketed, consumed and hopefully loved.

3) Thinking back through what you have worn since you’ve been staying at home, what has been your favourite item of clothing and why?

Since the lockdown, I’ve been sewing a lot. Working through a hoard of patterns, fabrics and haberdashery collected over the past 20 years. It was in part a response to realising that some of my favourite things in my wardrobe were things I made myself. For the most part simple garments, from 1950s patterns made up in vintage or re-purposed fabrics. Having more time at home, I decided to make three identical dresses from a pattern I’d made about three times before. I had enough fabric to make three dresses and challenged myself to produce them in 48 hours. The following week I wore only clothes I made myself – including the three dresses – and posted them online. I was inspired by Lori! I enjoyed making and wearing the dresses, but the social media bit tired me out to be honest!

4) Is there anything you feel you can wear now that you couldn’t in ‘normal’ times? Why? And is there anything you miss wearing (and why do you not wear it)?

I’ve worn skeleton leggings to the shop. There was a bit of dressing up for a Zoom party that involved £5.00 worth of tat from Poundland being transformed into a light-up Easter egg bonnet. I haven’t worn any corsets or hold-ups, and not sure if I miss them.

I definitely miss social situations that involve fancy dress. Themed costume parties, club nights. And I miss museums.

5) Has your self-perception changed in isolation? How so?

I don’t think my self-perception has changed, but my sensory experience of dress, and also of the significance of making and taking care of clothes has been heightened. I made a patchwork this past weekend, of squares I’ve been cutting from worn garments or remnants from other projects since 2005. I cut the squares in 2015, and made a 3 metres of fabric that might become a skirt or a coat. I think the patchwork is a self-portrait, but I’m not sure how I would present it and how it would be perceived when we dress for the public again.

If you’d like to take part in the project yourself, you can find all the information you need in the blog post entitled ‘Lockdown Fashion: an exploration of dressing at home in 2020‘ dated 9th April 2020.

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