Pandemic Fashion: We May Never Wear Real Clothes Again

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Not much of coronavirus’ impact on the fashion industry was predictable. Sure, sweatpants did eclipse evening gown sales and lipstick took a nosedive, as expected; but some of the more lasting effects of Covid-19 on the fashion industry could not have been foreseen. I’m talking about a scarcity aesthetic the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.

A “scarcity aesthetic” comes into play in times of economic hardship, when the divide between the haves and have-nots makes consumers reluctant to flaunt their wealth through clothing. We saw a less intense version of this during the 2008 recession: Flamboyant fabrics, Victorian era-inspired luxury, and ornately detailed garments take a backseat in favor of denim, simple tees, and raw, sustainable fabrics.

[callout]Dry clean only garments don’t have a place when many consumers are still reluctant to leave their homes. Washable garments will take precedence… especially hand-washable garments, which have a DIY element, empowering customers to tend to their own wardrobes.[/callout]

Let’s take a deeper look at some of the ways that the coronavirus pandemic will impact next year’s fashion and retail trends.

Quirky Prints Are the Name of the Game

Gen Z never bought into fast fashion in the same way as other generations. Despite their reluctance to hop aboard the fast fashion bandwagon, individualism has always been en vogue with next-gens. So, how do they reconcile a reluctance to spend, a passion for sustainability, and a drive to express themselves through their clothing?

Funky prints are the name of the game. 3D printers have made creating unique patterns cost-effective. For next-gens, this year’s scarcity aesthetic will be maximalism with minimal investment –– prints like tie dye, micro-florals, matching sets, and neutral-colored clothing items are all the rage and a strategic investment for fashion retailers. But Gen Z is still Gen Z, so these pieces and sets should also be offered in gender-neutral variations.

It should come as no surprise that a recent study by YPulse found that Loungewear and Activewear are the biggest product categories for millennials and Gen Z at the moment. However, this is closely followed by Minimalist Looks and Subtle Colored Clothing items.

Grounding Color Schemes

In a world that feels chaotic and unpredictable, consumers seek out comfort wherever they can get it. Color is one of the ways we collectively ground ourselves. Pantone set the color palette for the crisis when it named Classic Blue the Color of the Year for 2020. Designers quickly followed suit –– churning out simply cut clothing in greys, earth tones, and muted metallics.

Fashion is going back to its roots with big fat helping of humble pie. Homespun fabrics in neutral and primary colors are the new chic. We’re stepping away from the vivid brights that reigned a few years ago, which can feel out-of-touch during a time when so many people are out of work. While fashion from 2010-on has always been nostalgic, we’ll be seeing nostalgia for hand-sewn basics without the pomp of detailed design.


There is, however, one fashion trend that’s taken next-gen social media platforms by storm during the pandemic. Type “cottagecore” into any social media search bar and you’ll get a barrage of idyllic images of pastoral living, with everything from instructions on oven-baked breads, to shoppable images of floral prints, to simple linen dresses and tees. The hashtag has 1.4 billion views on TikTok and, when you break it down, it’s easy to see the appeal. The #cottagecore trend allows consumers to escape their demanding digital lives to immerse themselves in the hands-on, idyllic living of an old-fashioned storybook.

Although #cottagecore may be escapist in nature, there’s a sustainable bent to the modern trend. Think of the #cottagecore enthusiasts as the next wave of hipsters. These fairytale dressers are #woke as all get out. The trend is all about getting back to essentials, and it carries a lot of the same themes –– foraging for food, antique accessories, DIY –– as the hipster trend.

However, while this trend is all of the rage on social media, only 11 percent of Gen Z and 8 percent of millennial girls/women are actually interested in purchasing #cottagecore garb at the present moment –– meaning #cottagecore may be more aspirational in nature than something that results in measurable ROI.

At-Home Classics, Elevated

Consumers are beginning to want to elevate their work from home looks. The sweatpants and athleisure boom can’t last forever. The question is, what comes next? To answer this, we have to take a look at how Depression-era trends are evolving on Instagram and in digital fashion shows. Remember the house dress of the 1930s? Probably not, but it’s coming back en vogue in a big way (with some modern touches).

Once again, women are confined to their homes. The appeal of a dress that can be worn around the house all day but can also be dressed up with some shoes and earrings for a socially distant coffee shop meeting is undeniable. Enter the “nap dress” and “snack dress” of 2020. They look exactly how they sound: loose, comfortable dresses made of cotton or linen that are comfortable enough to sleep in, chic enough for a video call, and substantial enough to be worn out in public. Customers that prefer a more elevated look may gravitate towards hand washable silk pants or lingerie-inspired daywear as an alternative.

Another reality of Covid? Dry clean only garments don’t have a place when many consumers are still reluctant to leave their homes. Washable garments will take precedence… especially hand-washable garments, which have a DIY element, empowering customers to tend to their own wardrobes.

Making Sense of the Chaos

In 2021, fashion will be more utilitarian than we’ve seen in decades. Practicality and sustainability take precedence with the new scarcity aesthetic, but this doesn’t mean that we’ll be walking around in uniform. Next-gens will continue to express themselves through affordable personal touches such as tie-dye clothing, and old school handmade accents like patches, painting, eccentric dye patterns and buttons. There’s still a place for durable luxury, but in-your-face flamboyance is taking a backseat for now.

Brands that emphasize factors such as the durability, versatility, and sustainability of their apparel offering will take the lead as we move into the new year.



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