Simply put, 2020 was a strange and unprecedented year. In the apparel industry, trends were ushered in that were practically impossible to predict. It seems as though 2021 will offer a comparative degree of stability and regression towards normalcy, but even so, many of the trends that emerged during the pandemic might be here to stay. Either way, the past twelve months have likely changed the priorities, preferences, and habits of consumers and businesses alike forever.
With that in mind, here are the apparel trends that we think will define this year.
Much like the food and beverage industry, the apparel industry has had to adapt to consumers spending more time outdoors. As restaurants and bars have gone to great lengths to accommodate quality outdoor seating, apparel brands have leaned in on offering more versatile and stylish outerwear. Even though warm weather is on it’s way, consumers will continue to gravitate towards outerwear that allows them to enjoy their favorite activities, even if the wind, rain, or temperature don’t cooperate.
Even though the vaccine rollout has fueled a great deal of optimism about the trajectory of the pandemic and a return to “normalcy”, masks are largely still required and might be for quite some time in certain contexts. One of the subtle silver linings of extended mask mandates has been the elucidation of the various benefits that can be derived from having a protective layer between the respiratory system and the world. Of course, masks won’t be mandated forever, but whether it’s keeping the pollen out during allergy season, retaining heat during the colder months, or mitigating risk during flu season, consumers will continue to have reasons to seek out comfortable, functional, and fashionable face coverings.
The benefits of working from home have been a revelation for business and employees alike. Though some workers are happy to be returning to the office, many simply never will. It may be a relatively small perk in the grand scheme of things, but employees have simply grown accustomed to working in comfort. Of course, it is still important to look presentable and professional for virtual meetings, but this new normal allows for a lot more wardrobe flexibility and has ushered in a new wave of threads that blur the lines between loungewear and business attire. Even for those who have already returned to in-person work, the cat is out the bag--many workplaces are unlikely to ever fully return to their previous stringent attire expectations. The advent of "work from home clothes" has made it clear that comfort and professionalism are not mutually exclusive, and apparel brands continue to make the marriage of the two more seamless.
One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been the new perspective it has offered the world on the prospect of making tangible environmental change. The decrease in commuting and air travel ushered in promising reductions in air pollution. This correlation is obviously quite intuitive, but for many, simply seeing that our collective actions could result in positive changes was enough to reinvigorate a sense of agency in regards to social and environmental progress. In addition, 2020 was a year that exposed a lot of flaws and inadequacies in our institutions, which is shaping the way consumers see the world and make decisions. The broader implications of consumer purchases is continuing to climb the ladder of priorities for individuals across the globe, and the apparel industry is no exception.
Brands like Nau (featured above and below) are blazing the trail in environmentally conscious performance wear by using sustainable and recycled materials while still delivering a fashionable and high-tech product.
Customers are becoming increasingly interested in buying fewer items, which means the products they do purchase need to be multi-functional and durable. Brands that feature eco-friendly options and socially-minded missions will soon become the standard as opposed to just a niche market.
2021 marked the second time in over two decades of selecting a Pantone Color of the Year, that two colors were chosen, “Illuminating” and “Ultimate Gray”. Though there’s lots of ways to interpret these elections, this unlikely pair was, of course, not selected without reason. The most obvious quality of the relationship between these two colors is their stark contrast. 2021 will continue to be a year that embraces contrast and empowers brands and consumers alike to push the envelope with their stylistic choices.
Opting for simpler text and designs is a great way to let a pop of powerful color do the talking. Think bright colors on neutral garments.
Beyond the more obvious applications, there is a more metaphorical edge to these fated colors. After a downtrodden year like 2020 that was typified by shades of gray, we could all use a burst of light. A few months into 2021, we all have our sights set on the light at the end of the tunnel. We can see the sun peeking through the clouds. Though many of the challenges of 2020 still remain, it seems as though the worst is behind us. 2021 will ultimately be defined by how quickly and fully the sun emerges, as well as our collective capacity to choose light in the aftermath of darkness.