Lockdown has had a profound impact on our lives, including how we dress. Fashion is a different story.
In the 1933 comedy Duck Soup, Chico and Harpo raise their legs high in a scene where they place their thighs in the hands of an unwitting lemonade vendor.
My Instagram feed is remarkably similar to the film’s, except that it doesn’t feature scruffy scamps wearing wide-legged ’30s trousers. Instead, it features attractive young women showing how comfortable and flexible their clothes are.
Trackpants were “the height” of fashion in lockdown. Anna Wintour wore one pair. Shalini Ganapathy is a buyer at Sportsgirl, a young women’s brand on the high street. She told me that online sales increased by 300% and that videos of women in sweats exploded on TikTok.
Sportsgirl reports that there has been a significant increase in demand for “cosy knitwear” besides track pants. Big W, a budget retailer, reported that loungewear sales exceeded normal clothing sales in March. Natalie Kingham, Matchesfashion’s buying director, said “loungewear has been the most popular category”.
Stay-at-home orders in Australia are now less common. People can now visit their family and friends, and the country will soon be able to eat at a restaurant again. However, after months of wearing elasticated waistbands for months, is it possible to wear normal clothes again?
You won’t find it on social media. There are many jokes and complaints about high heels, bras, and jeans.
Francesca Muston, vice president of fashion content at WGSN, one the largest trend forecasting agencies in the world, agrees with Instagram and Twitter. She says, “I don’t believe there will be back to normal.” “Everything will fundamentally change.”
Both Muston and Ganapathy believe that the Covid-19 shut downs have increased popularity of trends already on the rise. Ganapathy says that women wore more track pants even before stay-at home orders. Muston says, “We just came out the back after years of athleisure so we already have very high expectations about comfort.”
Younger people were raised on streetwear, sneakers, and activewear. However, Muston says that since shutdowns have affected fashion on a mass level, the expectation will be higher still. It won’t be just younger consumers who will be demanding uncomfortable clothing.
Muston claims that people are more likely to spend their time at home working remotely, eating in at home, or exercising at home. This is a trend they have been following for more than four years.
Living in more places means that we have to shift our perceptions of what “flexible” clothing looks like. Sportsgirl has noticed a decrease in day-to-night dress categories. Ganapathy explained that it is not relevant for their customers’ lives at the moment.
Muston states that it is important to understand the economic impact of coronavirus on consumer spending.
According to the Australian Fashion Council, 75-80% of footwear, clothing, and textile brands in Australia have seen their business negatively affected by coronavirus. Muston states that there is an “absolute flood of overstock” that must be cleared. How can you make new stock that stands out in this environment? How can you justify this to the consumer? What can you do to justify it to the planet?
Her answer is “versatility”. It’s easier to sell products that can be used for multiple purposes. It might be a top that you can wear to work, but it can also be worn out.
Kingham said that items with long-lasting value are the most important to her customers. “I believe that unprecedented times require people to reevaluate what is most important.”
Muston points out that direct-to consumer brands, such as those that are flooding my Instagram feed, excel in identifying their own distinctness. She says that many of these brands have a solution-solving orientation. These brands don’t have thousands or hundreds of products. They spend more time researching and developing high-tech fabrics that breathe well or never wrinkle. Shoes that “really consider the arch of the feet and the position of your foot inside the shoe.”
Kingham and Ganapathy both believe that customers will be more comfortable as the lockdown relaxes. Kingham suggests that they are hungry for special pieces for nights out. Ganapathy said, “I think party dress and Christmas will be big this year.”
Muston is more cautious. She says, “You will always see trends that seem to be opposing each other that run in parallel.” You’re going to see revenge spending where people want to treat themselves. Some people don’t have enough money. It’s more about the fear.” She said that even though people want to go out and get dressed up, they may be too afraid of the possibility of transmitting or contracting Covid-19.
She also suggests that the pandemic could lead to a shift of values. “There was this idea about’stealth wealth” after the last recession… this will be even more compounded.” Muston believes that celebrities are now more popular than ever and people such as grocery clerks and healthcare workers become heroes. However, the appeal of being a reality star in chafing denim and high heels might not last as long.
However, a less formal and comfortable style of dress doesn’t mean that people are no longer able to look good. Both Ganapathy (and Kingham) have noticed sales increases in items above the waist, such as smart shirting and earrings. Ganapathy describes her customer as “simple and stylish” while still being comfortable. I think it will be a major factor in her future style.”
Muston states, “I don’t believe we’ll live forevermore with some kind of dystopian loungewear futurity.” “I believe we will see a breakdown of the currently fairly well-defined categories of fitness and activewear as well as casual-wear, formal- and tailored-wear, and party-wear. Because that is not how people live their lives, we need to break down these boundaries.