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Talking Trends: Dressing Down

Here’s how the pandemic-inspired work-from-home look is impacting womenswear fashion.

By Michael J. Pallerino, Contributing Writer

Joggers have joined the mix with leggings and yoga pants as in-demand womenswear garments because of their versatility and practicality. Photo provided by Russell Athletic.

March 18, 2021

If you think you’ve heard all there is to hear about the pandemic and its effect on fashion, think again. It’s a bona fide phenomenon, and 2021 will be no different.

Womenswear fashion once again will swing in favor of work-from-home-inspired looks. That means brands are pushing the athleisure look into hyperdrive, as today’s women seek comfort over corporate. If you were to take inventory of this year’s closet attire, you’d find blazers swapped with sweat shirts, and sweat pants or joggers in favor of dress pants or jeans.

Taryn Rosen, senior designer, activewear, for Friut of the Loom, JERZEES and Russell Athletic brands, says today’s women are looking for athleisure pieces that offer that magic ingredient: pieces that are restorative and cozy.

“The consumer wants to look and feel their best,” she says. “We definitely expect this trend to continue and grow due to the pandemic and more people working virtually.”

In a fashion scene that has been pushed forward by the pandemic and its work-related protocols (think regularly scheduled Zoom meetings), function coupled with fashion continues to be a necessity. As the lines between work and home dress continue to blur, women want their apparel to reflect that premise. The formula includes clean lines, classic styling and performance benefits like wicking and odor control.

“Since ‘occasion dressing’ isn’t happening right now the way it used to, it’s important to have all-day items that make women feel comfortable and confident,” Rosen says. “So whether they are lounging on the couch, having virtual work meetings or running errands, they want to feel relaxed.”

Remember when leggings and yoga pants were all the rage in 2020? Well, they’re back and you can add joggers to the mix. Driven by their versality and practicality (the look has never seen an occasion where it didn’t fit), women love that joggers offer maximum comfort, as well as the ability to transition from workout apparel to loungewear to “going-out wear.”

In 2021, expect to see new fabrics and style details. “From running errands, to being paired with heels for a dressy dinner, to lounging, leggings can be taken from day to night,” Rosen says. “They are a sleeker alternative to sweat pants, and many offer performance benefits as well.”

Jennifer Oleksik, design and merchandising manager, LAT Apparel, says the fashion and function mix continues to be a winning combination at retail. With the pandemic still making home offices a reality, that need isn’t going away.

“Women want fashion with a purpose,” she says. “They want apparel that is transitional and multifunctional — pieces you can wear to lounge or dress up to go out and about, or pieces that can transition from day to night depending on styling. It’s about investing in styles that will give you the most wearability and versatility.”

Oleksik says the category’s evolution will be fun to watch. “The work-from-home culture that has taken over in the last year has created the need for comfortable, but presentable pieces. [Women want] athleisure wear that is easy to wear but is presentable enough for a Zoom meeting or FaceTime business call.”

Other Looks Holding the Line
Nothing says comfort and ease more than cropped and oversized garments — a continuing trend that is evolving in 2021. Many lines already feature the two styles together.

One of the more appealing factors behind the “sweat shirt culture” is that there are no rules; wearers can make the look their own. Moving forward, sweat shirt styles will continue to run the gamut, depending on the occasion and customer’s style.

For example, some women may pair an oversized sweat shirt with baggy sweat pants for more of a streetwear look. The next day, they may pair a cropped hoodie with yoga pants. Depending on their mood, they also can go up or down a size — say, wear a cropped style or cut sweat shirt to show creativity.

“Again, it’s all about the athleisure,” Oleksik says. “Whether cropped or oversized, it gives a little extra elevation to the basic garment.”

Camo, animal prints and tie-dye will all remain strong in 2021, including looks featuring nature-inspired textured patterns like leaves, foliage and rock landscapes. As more people maintain social distance and reconnect with nature, this look helps keep consumers in tune to the earth.

In terms of embellishments, an interesting mix of graphics is expected. Monochromatic embroidery and appliqués that encourage multiple wear occasions and feel more subdued will be popular. In addition — and for a little contrast — bold activist and call-to-action graphics will continue to be prevalent, especially in a revived age of cultural change and social-justice movements.

As for colors, look for pastel hues that offer the look of a garment wash, as well as bold colors like bright magenta-purples, oranges, salmons and yellows. Calming neutrals also will gain traction, including optic white, creamy beiges and blush, as well as a wide range of grays.

“The colors are perfect for staying home and recharging,” Rosen says. “We also see the rise of energizing and revitalizing colors, like fresh mint, digital aqua and teal. We’re seeing a lot of brands tap into the heritage and retro nostalgia trends and go back their roots. This can be reflected in chenille patches, vintage distressed screen prints and other techniques that reference brand history and storytelling.”

Trends to Watch
One of the biggest trends that may define 2021 is the concept of “above-the-keyboard” dressing. Since so many women are working from home, Rosen says details on the top half of tees and fleece are more important than ever. Looks include an interesting neckline, embroidered logo at the collar or left-chest graphics.

Oleksik says the work-from-home mindset is creating a new evolution of graphic tees, especially the “concert-tee” look, which includes distressed, oversized and cropped garments. “Women are pairing this look with jeans, but also elevating it with a blazer or cardigan,” she says. “We are also seeing a lot of color — pastel-type hues, as well as bold brights.”

Another trend/lifestyle change will be quality over quantity, including a focus on purchasing well-made and timeless items. “With people going out less and being more fiscally conscious, buying less but better is becoming more and more important,” Rosen says.

The mindset also will dovetail into the green playing field, as sustainability will continue to drive lifestyle changes and purchasing patterns. Recycled fibers, eco dyes and manufacturer transparency is very important for the conscious consumer.

“I see a growing modular trend as women are looking for adaptability in their wardrobe,” Rosen says. “Sweat shirt/facemask hybrids with high necks for extra protection during the pandemic; utility pockets and strategic zippers for storage; and detachable jackets and pants that can be adjusted depending on your need will be key.”

In the race to stay safe, productive and in vogue, today’s womenswear looks will continue to play off these attributes. “Trends are sticking around much longer than ever before,” Oleksik says. “It’s really just about how to evolve them into something exciting enough to create a reason to buy. [For example,] adding shoulder details to a basic tee, unique cut lines on a hoodie, unexpected trim details or color blocking — these are all things to watch out for in 2021.”

Michael J. Pallerino is an award-winning writer who has written for a number of national consumer and trade publications. For more information or to comment on this article, email Michael at