If winter is about cosying up, then summer is about casting off: your cares, your clothes, everything in between. There’s something inherently blithe and unconcerned about summer, which, considering the current global context, is very much not true of 2020. Perhaps that’s why we’re longing for a sun-soaked escape more than ever before. Blue skies may feel jarring against the rolling coverage of infection rates and PPE shortages but they're blue nonetheless and we can’t help but plot all the trips we'll be taking at some point in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future.
As the coronavirus crisis weighs on our minds, we’re finding ourselves scrolling back through our camera roll to the last jaunts we took before life changed and lockdown began. From Mexico to Majorca, many a summer holiday has been cancelled – Ryanair is currently dealing with 25 million refund claims – but far from torturing ourselves, dreaming of adventures that can’t yet be booked is soothing our lockdown anxiety. Studies show that a vast proportion of holiday happiness lies in the anticipation and with big Sainsbury's the most exotic location we’re visiting right now, planning a future getaway in intricate detail offers a much-needed serotonin boost and gives us some semblance of agency in an otherwise out-of-control climate.
Throwback holiday snaps aside, the entertainment industry – which we’re relying on more than ever in lockdown – has been serving up platefuls of summer escapism. A world away from the cringeworthy genre of gap year travel (Eat Pray Love, we’re looking at you), onscreen globetrotting has been extremely sexy of late. Sally Rooney’s Normal People hit the BBC last month and besides making us unreasonably horny, it had us searching for picturesque villas in the Italian countryside. With a pool overlooking rolling hills and bursts of fuchsia flowers scattered across the grounds, it didn’t take long for the internet to snaffle out the exact farmhouse used as a location in episode eight. (You can rent it on Airbnb here, by the way, but you’ll have to wait – it’s booked up until June 2021.) Let’s not forget, though, that Call Me By Your Name walked so Normal People could run. Luca Guadagnino’s film had us longing for fraught romance amid luscious Italian vistas all the way back in 2017.
Over in music, Harry Styles dropped a video this week for his single "Watermelon Sugar", a torturous affair in more ways than one. "This video is dedicated to touching" flashes up on screen before we’re treated to (teased with?) Styles and a bevy of beautiful people doing exactly what we’re unable to right now: kiss, hug and dance on a beach at golden hour. With many of us experiencing both skin hunger and claustrophobia in lockdown, it's no wonder that the video, all celebratory tactility, sun-kissed sand and mouthwatering fruit, whipped the internet into a lustful frenzy: it’s the ultimate summer porn. Beyond the sudden urge to book a flight, these recent pop culture moments have had us rethinking our warm-weather wardrobes.
Marianne’s get-ups in Normal People generated as much fanfare as the show’s radical sex scenes, thanks to costume designer Lorna Marie Mugan’s mishmash of vintage, high street and pieces pulled from her own wardrobe. Every look is considered – from the school uniforms to Connell’s chain – but for us the magic lies in Marianne’s holiday dresses. There’s the black broderie anglaise midi with delicate spaghetti straps, worn with white canvas pumps while cycling along tree-lined paths to a quaint village to eat gelato; and the gingham and floral shift, the epitome of a throw-it-on-and-go dress, which Marianne dons to hang laundry in the sun-speckled garden. "Watermelon Sugar" offered just as much on the fashion front, with stylist Harry Lambert paying homage to Californian summer dressing – think coordinating ‘60s floral prints, hippie multicoloured crochet, tinted sunnies and tie-dye denim.
Dishing up an al fresco supper in the rolling hills of Sant’Oreste or dancing on a Malibu beach with a host of friends and lovers may not be on the cards for any of us in the immediate future but there are other ways to execute a long, languid summer without travelling far afield. Food and drink is an obvious place to start – Rukmini Iyer’s lemon-laden recipes and Rachel Roddy’s dispatches from her Roman kitchen are our personal favourites for cuisine that carries you to the continent – but we can also do it through the clothes we wear. Sure, we may have entered lockdown in comfort-first loungewear but for reasons of practicality and aesthetics, there’s simply no place for sweatpants in summer.
Summer is not for cosy comfort. It’s for freedom: breathable, loose and lightweight fabrics like linen and cotton that shade you, allow you to frolic in the sun and turn your sweat into a sweet, sticky mess. Summer is for possibility: backless dresses in bright colours that invite a very attractive person to put their arm around your waist as the sun goes down. Summer is for strappy sandals and swimwear and sunglasses and bags woven from some kind of natural material – raffia or wicker, perhaps – that hold nothing but a towel, sun cream and a few euros in change. We may not be venturing further than the local park this season but we can still conjure up the insouciance of a holiday via the clothes we choose to wear.
According to global fashion search platform Lyst, searches for 'summer escapism' have risen 27% since lockdown began. "Data indicates that stay-at-home shoppers are moving on from comfortable loungewear and starting to think about a world post-coronavirus," Lyst’s fashion insights reporter, Morgane Le Caer explains. "Following on from a previous rise in mood-boosting, colourful pieces, we’re now seeing a spike in searches for white denim, tie-dye, sunglasses and sliders, which suggests that fashion lovers are trying to forget about being stuck at home by embracing summer escapism."
We've long used image-sharing platforms like Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram as vision boards to transport ourselves to sun-dappled scenes. I've recently discovered the vivid colour and low-key glamour of American photographer Charles Traub's early '80s series of snapshots of Rome, Venice and Florence bursting with the vibrancy of buzzing streets at the peak of summer. One particularly perfect image captures a woman wearing the most sumptuous yellow dress, reading with her feet in a fountain, sandals slung to the side. Oh, to be her! I'm also saving colour-laden pieces by David Hockney – gazing at his pool paintings, you can almost feel Los Angeles' still heat on your face. Art aside, these digital galleries always throw up a plethora of sartorial inspiration, too.
Surely the most referenced summer muse is Jane Birkin. The British actress and musician’s ‘60s and ‘70s summer looks continue to inspire influential dressers today – from Kate Moss and Alexa Chung to Jeanne Damas – and no summer collection is complete without at least one nod to her English-French hybrid style. Birkin’s aesthetic has proved immortal, with designers at every spring/summer fashion month returning to the prints, cuts and fabrics for which she is known and loved: the breezy minidresses and wraparound espadrilles she wore to lounge around the house, the belly-button-skimming crochet crop tops and white denim flares she donned while taking boats out to sea, the oversized linen shirt she reached for when strolling Sunday markets, basket bag in tow. From high-waisted denim shorts to long-sleeved Breton tees, tank tops to bohemian blouses, Pinterest and Instagram are littered with Birkin’s summer style. I’ve found myself sourcing her pieces for a suitcase I’ll never pack for a holiday I cannot take as a form of catharsis after a particularly draining day of Bad News™. Government failings and other people’s irresponsible attitudes to social distancing may be out of my control but curating a Birkin-inspired outfit for a holiday in 2021? That’s the good stuff, right there.
Other notable contenders include but are not limited to: Jean Seberg in the 1958 adaptation of Françoise Sagan’s sizzling cult classic, Bonjour Tristesse, which will make you want to romp around the French Riviera in ‘50s gingham blouses and high-waisted shorts, causing mischief with the boy next door; ‘70s supermodel Pat Cleveland’s penchant for palazzo trousers and wide-legged jumpsuits; Bianca Jagger’s ultra cool white suiting and halterneck sundresses; Jackie Kennedy’s XXL sunnies and silk headscarves; Pam Grier’s waist-defining trousers with printed dagger collar shirts. Any throwback Instagram page worth its salt has a glut of summer styling tips and tricks from the It Girls of fashion history, which we'll be putting into practice as the warm weather approaches.
We've always used image-sharing platforms to plan our futures – from the ideal wedding to our next home improvement project – but with all tangible plans on hold for the time being, they’re acting as escapism in its purest form. The economic fallout of coronavirus, the worst of which is yet to come, has forced many of us to reexamine our spending – although who knows whether we’ll see a spike in 'revenge shopping' once we’re able to visit shops IRL. That, however, is not the point of summer escapism. Influencer Charlotte Jacklin has spoken about the joys of online window shopping in lockdown and if you’re anything like us, your hypothetical wish list is far longer than your actually-going-to-buy list. Summer escapism isn’t about goal-setting – which, as a matter of fact, psychologists have said does more harm than good – it’s about fantasy, inspiration and daydreaming.
For those without access to a private garden, a lack of green outdoor space has only compounded the difficulty of lockdown but, as the weather improves, it hasn’t stopped people from getting creative. A rise in 'indoor sunbathing' has emerged whereby you don a swimsuit, pull a chair and a towel over to a light-flooded window, dangle your legs outside and pretend you’re on a European coastline – proof that no matter how physically restricted we find ourselves, we can still bring the holiday to our homes. Now that lockdown has eased to allow people to sit in parks, we’re likely to see a boom in picnics, too. Spreading a blanket and drinking ice-cool portable cocktails is about to become as thrilling as a long weekend in Marseille.
Perhaps the lockdown-induced drop in global CO2 emissions (down a breathtaking 17% compared to last year) will see us reconsider our relationship with cheap and easy air travel, and turn our focus instead to the beauty of at-home holidaying. Or maybe we’ll be so desperate to break out of confinement that we’ll book a flight to the furthest corner of the planet as soon as we can. We can only wait and see what the future holds for post-coronavirus travel but in the meantime, we’re happily dreaming of what we’ll wear on our escape, whether it’s in Cornwall's quaint coastal villages or exploring the beaches of Bali.