The Shape of Things to Come

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To the terror of millennials everywhere, Gen Z has officially canceled the skinny jean. Denim’s wider silhouette is only eclipsed by the flamboyant nature of today’s styles. The post-pandemic consumer mindset is defined by post-traumatic growth, or “the positive psychological change that is experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances.\”

Experiencing Fashion PTSD

Post-traumatic growth can result from circumstances such as war, climate change, loss, or a global pandemic. A single incident can change the purchasing behavior of an entire population. In 2021, fashion is bifurcated into two groups:

  1. Those that want to dress up to celebrate life post-pandemic.
  2. Those who reevaluated the beauty standards they adhered to in the past, and rejected them in favor of more casual, minimalistic styles.

We’re dealing with a generation of consumers that, frankly, Scarlett, no longer give a damn. This is manifesting in shoppers looking for brave styles … because depression has given them the courage to stand out. Consumers may be ready to see and be seen, but they’re less concerned about being judged than they have been in the past. The pandemic gave us all perspective into what really matters, and it’s not someone at the grocery store’s opinion about your ensemble.

[callout]Depression has given Gen Z the courage to stand out. Consumers may be ready to see and be seen, but they’re less concerned about being judged than they have been in the past. The pandemic gave us all perspective into what really matters, and it’s not someone at the grocery store’s opinion about your ensemble.[/callout]

Fashion in 2021 is all about self-expression. Retailers can profit from understanding the driving forces behind Gen Z and millennial purchasing behavior. Sure, what they buy is important, but understanding why they buy can help retailers stay one step ahead to achieve the highly coveted “trendsetter” status. So, let’s take a look at the evolving styles and fashion sects that are emerging from the carnage of last year.

The Profound Nature of Leisurewear

We may be prying ourselves off of the couch and going back to the classroom or office, but, for many of us, that doesn’t mean that we’re ready to bid our sweatpants adieu. Even now that leisurewear isn’t the only reasonable option, many consumers will continue to go the casual route post-Covid. Consumers are all about #selfcare nowadays, especially when it comes to their mental health.

Leisurewear staples like cozy boyfriend hoodies and terrycloth pants are coming into style in a big way. As are seemingly any fashion that is so garish that it seems the wearer is intentionally trying to make themselves less attractive, but don’t take my word for it –– just Google “crocs,” “UGGs comeback,” or “print mixing” for a taste of what I mean.

However, it’s not all oversize hoodies and statement Croc embellishments in the leisurewear sector. Bras, tees, and yoga pants with fabric cutouts are huge in yoga wear. As are solid, chalky pastel shades that help consumers stand out from the horde. Tennis style is also glamming up the leisurewear sector, and Princess Diana courtside style is making a comeback.

Unapologetically Ready to Play Dress Up

Now, for the maximalist consumer. “Brazen” is the fashion term of the day. This segment has been locked away in their home for a year and they’re ready to express themselves through vibrant, eye-catching fashions. They’re making up for lost time in bright colors, tie-dye and statement prints. Cow and zebra print are particularly en vogue for Gen Z consumers and fashion-forward millennials. We’re talking full on cow print pants.

But some next gens don’t just want to standout, they want to let them eat cake. This desire is bringing back a resurgence in slip dresses… they’re not just a staple of the 90s anymore. Like many styles from the early aughts, silky slip dresses and tanks are coming back in a big way in 2021. The more flamboyant the jewel tone, the better for younger consumers. They’ll be pairing these dresses with platform sneakers or good ole Doc Martens to dress them down for everyday wear.

Seventies style fringe is also coming back with a boom. The western wear staple has been elevated with pleather and bedazzled in rhinestones to make the look current. The vibe is luxe, indulgent, and expressive. But the seventies aren’t the only era on next-gens’ radar now that we’re headed back into everyday life.

They’re so 2000…and Late

To further scandalize millennials, Gen Z has insisted upon a return to early 2000 style. In observing Gen Z’s obsession with cop “vintage” 90s styles, we millennials finally understand why our Gen X and boomer parents were so horrified when we started wearing bell bottoms and bandana tops (which are also back in demand for Gen Z in 2021).

And yes, Gen Z is coming after millennials’ skinny jeans. Wide leg jeans are finally making skinnies unfashionable. Think of it like the late 90s resurgence of 70s fashion comeback, with a sustainable, futuristic twist. The painted denim trend gives jeans a personalized, whimsical flair to wide leg and flare jeans. Retailers that provide paint-your-own denim options or denim painted by local artists will be at an advantage.

Unfortunately, it’s not all throwback flares and 70s-era artistic individuality in the fashion world. Fashion from the early aughts has made a resurgence by way of low-riding pants featuring Vegas-ready sequins and rhinestone embellishments that reflect the name or ethos of the wearer. Don’t believe me? Just look at some of the loungewear products from the aptly named Adidas 2000 line. We can only hope that sweatpants wearers this time around will have more interesting sentiments to share on their hindquarters than “Juicy.”

Looking Forward

Millennials and Gen Z are demanding more daring fashions, and designers have no choice but to oblige. Both generations are highly inclined towards rule-breaking, especially when it comes to fashion. Just as some millennials will never give up their skinny jeans, some Gen Zers will never give up wearing sequins on their faces. But mark my words: The nostalgic but inventive 90s take on the 70s will come back into style across all demographics. Granted, some people will ignore it and keep on wearing their sweatpants. As for millennials, “throwback fashion” is about to get very weird.



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