Hell hath no fury like a fashionista scorned. After twelve goddamn months of nowhere to go, no nightclubs to get dressed up for, no rails of clothes to stroke, no fashion shows to peacock outside of — we are more than just deliriously bored; we’re angry. And we want revenge. In China, the term bàofùxìng xiāofèi — which translates as ‘revenge shopping’ — has been making waves as style pundits have been making up for lost time by hitting malls and luxury emporiums hard, buying up feel-good items that they have been starved for during lockdown. Case in point: Hermès reportedly cashed in $2.7 million at its flagship boutique in Guangzhou’s Taikoo Hui mall on the first day of trading after restrictions eased.
More than just a consumerist flex, the idea of seeking ‘revenge’ on Covid-19 is prescient around the world. Think of the pandemic as the boyfriend who broke your heart. It’s time to get back out there and look incredible for your new audience and potential suitors. We want to stride into restaurants and turn heads, we want to look so good that we can bypass the queue to the club. Getting dressed up is a ritualistic rite of passage that we have been denied — and, just like a breakup, we need the ceremonial catharsis of external validation. Clothes are meant to be seen, not just on a stroll to the supermarket.
What does vengeful fashion look like? Well, contrary to the old saying, it’s actually a dish best served red-hot, not ice-cold. Remember sex? If the recent AW21 shows were anything to go by, it’s back with a vengeance. Sex, sexy and even sexual dressing (see: lockdown kink) disappeared from the catwalks for a while, designers instead favouring Russian Doll layers and duvet-like volumes in a post-#MeToo era. But right now, S-E-X are the letters on everyone’s lips — or socks and towels, in the case of Christopher Kane’s ‘More Joy’ merch line. Valentino, Maximilian, Blumarine and Tom Ford all advocated the short-short miniskirt as a way of brazenly striding into the soon-to-be summer of love(rs), and not since the night that Samantha Mumba stepped out at the Spider-Man 2 premiere in 2004, wearing £5 million-worth of diamonds and not much else, have slinky, strappy minidresses — which now come courtesy of Nensi Dojaka, Supriya Lele and Charlotte Knowles — been so prevalent.
A look from Nensi Dojaka’s AW21 collection
Fashion’s sexual reawakening has captured our collective fatigue with chaste primness and comfortable loungewear, and all those pervasive puffer coats and frothy poufs of tulle of the last few years. Matthew Williams has made brash sexiness the defining feature of his vision for Givenchy, with topless dresses that free the nipple and croc-leather bags placed firmly between the legs in campaigns. Ludovic de Saint Sernin has been making eyelet-fastened panties during lockdown. Perhaps the ultimate revenge — especially for those singletons starved of sexual intimacy — is getting dressed for the sole purpose of getting undressed. Once again, we are extremely hormonal teenagers itching to get out of our uniforms, or simply customising them to be as provocative as possible.
Of course, we can’t talk about revenge dressing without talking about the Revenge Dress. The progenitor of all sartorial vengeance is arguably Princess Diana arriving at the Serpentine Gallery’s 1994 Summer party in an LBD with an incendiary slit, a fabulously fleshy décolletage, and a wisp of chiffon floating behind her (very GmbH AW21). It was the timing that made it so deliciously ruthless. Diana decided to go to the party at the last minute, mainly because it was the night that a long-awaited documentary on her estranged husband was due to air, the first time he had publicly admitted to being unfaithful. Diana knew what she was doing. She could have stayed at home and cowered away from attention, but instead she got put on a dress and spike-heels pumps. The next day, she dominated every headline and the world cheered on the scorned woman, while Charles was left upstaged and seething. “She wanted to look a million dollars,” said the princess’ former stylist Anna Harvey, “and she did”.
Diana created the blueprint for many women in the public eye who chose to put their best foot forward instead of hiding away after a breakup (there’s even an Instagram account dedicated to her ‘Revenge Looks’). Nicole Kidman started wearing sky-high stilettos after breaking up with pint-sized Tom Cruise, Bella Hadid donned a backless mesh catsuit to the 2017 Met Gala, her first appearance since breaking up with The Weeknd (who was also in attendance, ouch), and when Irina Shayk was pictured leaving her marital home in a utilitarian Burberry boiler suit, clutching carry-on suitcase — it was very ‘We Can Do It!’ — she flew to Milan, where she glided down the Versace catwalk in chainmail minidress. Bye-bye, Bradley. Hello, Donatella!
But it’s not always about boys — or maybe it is, considering the leaders who have mismanaged the pandemic always seem to be old men. Often, we’re seeking revenge on our circumstances — because we’re all just subject to the undulating stock markets. After the last financial crash in 2008, fashion responded by offering up a sombre new eave of minimalism. Just weeks after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Phoebe Philo made her debut at Céline, where she ushered in a new era of beautifully-crafted, pared-back luxury — her own revenge on the brash logomania, exposed midriffs and drainpipe silhouettes of the first half of the ‘00s. “I just thought I’d clean it up,” she told Vogue at the time. “Make it strong and powerful — a kind of contemporary minimalism.” It goes without saying that her influence can still be felt today — and several designers have carried the torch of timelessness as a balm for troubled times — just look at Kim Jones’ debut Fendi ready-to-wear collection.
In fact, there’s been a recent, fascinating phenomenon among the Insta-Babe set of late: some of the most photographed women in the world are covering up. Kendall, Gigi, Bella et al have all become the lockdown customers of The Row, the New York label that is the ultimate in prudent, triple-ply luxury. Why? Well, if the slew of recent documentaries and think pieces about female celebrity have shown us anything, it’s that there’s little power in being stalked by a paparazzi lens. Remember ‘upskirting’? Yeah, that still exists. So, it’s little surprise that some of the most exposed women in the world are taking their revenge on the men — and it is always men — who incessantly stalk them with flashbulbs, desperate for a shot that could provoke needless conversations about their bodies. Instead, they are swathing their bodies in layers of the finest fabrics known to womankind — and it feels good, both in terms of literally and figuratively. Consider it their revenge on the Daily Mail’s ‘sidebar of shame’.
For the rest of us mere mortals, however, the situation largely requires the opposite. We are desperate for exposure! And though we may be in the midst of a double-dip recession, the overarching, most zeitgeist-defining look of 2021 is big, bold and more bombastic than ever. Think of those out-there Schiaparelli six-pack breastplates — the perfect revenge on the ‘summer bod’ obsessives for those of us whose only exercise has been walking to the fridge. Or, Prada’s stomping military boots, a shoe that would otherwise invoke the ire of your downstairs neighbours, but can happily make some noise out and about. Sky-high stilettos — which we so perilously rejected in favour of sneakers during the last decade — are suddenly worth accepting the Uber surcharge for, because at least that means we’re actually going somewhere, ANYWHERE!
In 2021, dressing for revenge is what you decide it should look like — but mainly, it’s about relishing in the clothes that you’ve been denied the opportunity to wear. For some, that might be a barely-there wisp of chiffon that leaves little to the imagination. For others, it might be taking a complete U-turn and hitting the reset button on your style. You decide what your revenge fantasy looks like. But just remember, sweatpants are everyone’s enemy. Let them be the target for our collective vengeance.