New York City's SoHo, normally a bustling neighborhood that essentially functions as an outdoor shopping mall, is empty. The windows of stores usually buzzing with tourists and Instagrammers posing for fit checks are marked with signs announcing closures due to the global spread of the novel coronavirus — luxury retailers like Coach, Fendi and Dolce & Gabbana have been boarded up entirely, as though preparing for looters. Since we're all supposed to stay home (please, unless you have to go to work, for the love of God, please stay home) and "flatten the curve," i.e. slow the spread of the virus, shopping outside is essentially a non-starter. But what about shopping online?
There are a number of considerations when it comes to online shopping in this, our brave new world. Is it safe to receive packages? Are conditions safe for workers? Considering rapidly rising unemployment rates, is it wise to spend money on clothing in the first place? When we can't go outside, is there even a point to buying anything besides the comfiest of sweatpants?
When it comes to receiving mail, scientists have found that the CoV-2 virus can survive for up to 24 hours on cardboard, so it's a good policy to Lysol your packages before bringing them inside. But there's no need for hysteria. Cardboard is a porous surface, which experts say is good for avoiding viral transmissions (fabric is also porous — but there aren't hard numbers yet on how long the virus can live on fabric, so it's a good idea to wash clothes once you receive them).
Essentially, you're not going to get corona from picking up a box. "The thing that you have to consider, though, is that those tests are done in ideal testing circumstances," Rachel Graham, a virologist at the University of North Carolina, told NPR. "That's like in some kind of hermetically sealed box where there's no fluctuation in humidity, there's no wind, there's nothing that can contribute toward desiccating the virus. And so desiccation — or drying out the virus — would actually reduce the amount of time it's actually viable on any kind of surface."
But what about conditions for workers? Since the second week of March, when the virus began a full-force global spread, I've received countless emails from fashion companies assuring customers that they've sent their employees home to practice social distancing, and special sanitary precautions are being taken in package fulfillment facilities. But that's not everywhere. Amazon and Instacart workers are striking; employees have been exposed to COVID-19 in warehouses, and say that their employers aren't protecting them with proper sanitation, let alone paid sick leave. Even fashion businesses that seem far cuddlier than Bezos's behemoth aren't above treating their workers poorly. Everlane, which markets itself as a bastion of ethical fashion and makes basics for basics, was recently admonished by Senator Bernie Sanders for union-busting in a crisis.
So when it comes to online shopping in a pandemic, it's important to be even more mindful than usual about who you support. In a column for the New York Times, fashion critic Vanessa Friedman wrote that shopping during a pandemic feels selfish, fluffy, "just the other side of wrong," or, as one of her readers put it, "shameful." People are dying, out of work and desperate — with very little hope of help from the US government. But as Friedman wrote, shopping "is also an essential part of our economy; retail an enormous source of employment and creative expression." In some ways, she noted, "the state of shopping is a sign of the times." Those 25 percent off deals shouldn't solicit joy: they're a retailer's cry for help. "Shopping now is as much a moral as a consumer question," she added. "Where you spend your money matters. Before you buy, think: What is this about? It could be about helping save a generation of small designers and independent businesses."
That line of thinking seems like the best and perhaps only ethical way to shop online. If you can afford it, buy your clothes from small businesses you'd like to see live out the virus. People that contribute so much to our culture — designers, artists, chefs, musicians, everyone interesting — are getting decimated by this, the plague. So if you can help, spend your money wisely.
"Buying and shopping online are the only lifelines for a lot of small businesses right now," designer Adam Selman, who runs the athleticwear brand Adam Selman Sport (aka A.S.S.) tells PAPER in an Instagram direct message. Selman makes the most comfortable sweatpants this reporter has ever owned, as well as incredibly ass-flattering leggings that work both for attempting at-home workout videos and taking photos to send to one's coronavirus boyfriend. And he thinks that this is a watershed moment for the industry.
"Shoppers are in a unique position to shape the future of what surrounds them and survives this chapter," he wrote. "It leaves a big opening — a lot of Goliaths in the industry could fall and more savvy brands could define the next chapter we live in. Currently, ordering online is another form of voting. Support the brands you love and believe in."
Brandon Veloria, co-owner of New York's best vintage boutique, James Veloria, has kept online orders going, aided by an active and joyful social media presence. (The store's charming Instagram stories, in which Veloria models archival looks from the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood, are not to be missed.)
"Doing stories and online sales have definitely been keeping me sane," he wrote in a DM. "It's been a really nice way of still maintaining a community and relationships with people that I'd normally see in person."
"I think in general it's important for us because we're able to continue maintaining jobs for our staff who are like family to us, and I think to a lot of our customers," he added. "Honestly though, even if people don't buy anything, all of the messages of support have been so encouraging and make me feel less alone or trapped in all of this. And hopefully my silly stories are helping people feel the same way."
Watching Veloria's stories adds a dash of glamour to my otherwise dull, dull days. I sit in my pajamas and watch him in polished '90s Commes de Garçons and Raf Simons button downs and think about how badly I want to get dressed up for something, anything. And then last night, I decided I just should get dressed for no reason, just to feel better. I put on a vintage Vivienne Westwood tartan with a cropped black Margiela sweater and high heels, the exact outfit I'd worn on a date right before the world stopped. It made me feel just a tad more normal, even if I only wore it to watch The Talented Mr. Ripley and drunkenly bake banana bread.
Getting dressed up — or at least putting on outside clothes — seems to have a positive effect on the bruised psyches of quarantined fashion lovers. All over my social media feeds, people are getting all glammed up, just for fun (I would also dress up for a Zoom party, but I have not been invited to a single one). On Instagram, accounts like Work From Home Fits encourage people to have fun with fashion, even if no one will see it IRL. So if you have the money, and you want something from a local shop or designer, don't feel weird about ordering it. You'd be doing your best to keep a business and a culture alive, for just a little while longer.