Out of the hardships of 2020, the fashion industry grew wiser and more aware of its environmental and social impact. Businesses spoke out against discrimination. Designers pledged to reduce waste and rein in the frequency of their collections. Consumers warmed up to idea of resale, DIY and, in general, buying less.
A leaner and more responsible industry, however, will bring its own set of trends to watch in 2021. Circularity, sustainable alternatives and veganism will reflect a renewed sense of environmentalism, while joyful fashion will do its part to help revitalize spirits and retail.
Here’s a look at 21 trends that will move fashion in new directions in 2021.
Second-nature actions so ingrained in our everyday lives—be it hugging a friend or feeling a new piece of clothing in a store—are luxuries nowadays. Touch, however, continues to pull emotional weight in the purchases consumers make. Knowing this, apparel brands are introducing fabrics with plushier constructions and silky, smooth handles to give consumers the sensory experience they crave. Brands and retailers are also upping their word game with product descriptions that bring the sense of touch to reality, even over a digital screen.
Gray denim is a season-less staple, but Pantone cemented its popularity when it named Ultimate Gray one of its two Colors of the Year for 2021. Fortunately, the color in denim exudes the soft vintage look and feel that pandemic consumers favor. Expect to see brands and retailers roll out gray edits, pairing it with cheerful pastels, cozy, calming neutrals and chic black and white.
The demand for loungewear is unlikely to wane as parts of the world began 2021 in full lockdown mode. The category’s styling, however, is poised for an upgrade. Though nostalgic logos and novelty prints sustained the moods of home-bound consumers in 2020, expect to see a shift toward finer fabrics and slimmer fits as well as modified basics like turtleneck tees, pleated joggers and French Terry jeans.
Though the catwalk gave wide-leg jeans and slouchy fits the seal of approval several seasons ago, the pandemic-induced desire for comfort pushed the trend into the mainstream. That’s good news for denim retailers, which can no longer sustain themselves solely on the sales of dark skinny jeans. The trend has a built-in audience with ’90s-obsessed Gen Z, while giving older consumers a new reason to shop for jeans.
From bans on single-use plastic to a fast-fashion slowdown, the impact that our purchases have on people and the planet has never been more visible or better understood. As a result, consumers are second-guessing impulse splurges, warming up to thrifted threads and extending the life of their apparel through mending and repair. And brands beware: they’re also doing more homework to ensure they are supporting companies with ethics and principles that mirror their own, or what they aspire to be.
Faustine Steinmetz, Off-White and Philosophy Di Lorenzo are among the high-brow labels that have helped put painted denim on the radar of fashion watchers this year. Consider it the next quarantine hobby, or a creative (and sustainable) way to cover up stained jeans.
Environmentalism is not a new concept, but with the U.S. rejoining the Paris Accord Agreement and the Biden-Harris administration pledging to restore the country’s climate leadership, expect to see a sense of environmentalist pride sweep over American fashion. Planet-friendly slogan tees, nature-inspired motifs, and brand and product stories with an environmental slant are bound to be on the upswing.
In times of crisis, consumers cling to what they know best, including brands and products with proven track records. This safe (and sentimental) mindset bodes well for heritage denim brands, especially those with deep archives they can cull inspiration from or reissue altogether. But don’t count out the L.A. labels that helped put premium denim on the map two decades ago. Gen Z is bound to discover their impact.
When Vogue chose Harry Styles as its first male-only cover for the December issue, dressed in a Gucci gown nonetheless, the storied publication was making a statement about the future of fashion, and it delivered the message to mailboxes and grocery store checkout lines across the U.S. Moreover, it revealed a yearning for modernity—a new era of fashion that invites newcomers and established players to break free from traditional notions of seasons, gender, luxury and retail for a more inclusive, creative and kind industry. Expect to see more retailers, brands and fashion tastemakers chase unrestrained modernity.
Ellen MacArthur’s Jean Redesign, a set of guidelines that establish the minimum requirements for the durability, material health, recyclability and traceability of jeans, is widely known throughout the denim industry. Consumers, however, are next in line to be schooled in the framework when more jeans made with the guidelines hit the store floor in 2021.
With coronavirus vaccines rolling out across the world, hopes are high that life will return to some semblance of normalcy by summertime. Fashion is bound to reflect this optimistic mood. While tie-dye kept spirits high during quarantine, anticipate the post-pandemic wardrobe to evolve with work-friendly color blocking and colorful metallic coatings and trims—pieces intended to stand out and be seen. These joyful styling tricks will not only uplift closets, they will also boost depressed store floors and inspire positive marketing messages.
A product of conscious consumerism and heritage, buzz about resale is booming. The popularity of peer-to-peer thrifting platforms like Depop and Poshmark and online consignment purveyors like ThredUp and The RealReal underscores the widespread acceptance of buying secondhand fashion and accessories. Moreover, it highlights consumers’ unwavering love for the thrill of the hunt, be it for bargains or unique items. It’s a quality that has been lost in homogenized department stores, but it can be recreated by introducing vintage and pre-owned items to the traditional sales floor.
Whether it was a secluded camp ground, or a designated patch of grass in a city park, outdoor spaces were a welcomed respite from quarantine. And influences from the outdoor apparel category continue to be relevant to value-seeking fashion consumers. Hallmarks of the category like performance fabrics, functional trims and durability are top of mind as consumers begin to rebuild their wardrobes, as well as the ethical ethos that many outdoor brands stand behind.
As the sustainable benefits of hemp and its moisture-wicking and temperature management properties become widely known, more denim mills are integrating the fiber into their production. This means jeans brands have more options in blends, weights and constructions, allowing them to find the hemp denim that best reflects their design point-of-view and consumer’s needs.
When Black Lives Matter catapulted back into the headlines following the murder of George Floyd in May, the movement didn’t start and stop with protests. It also brought to light the discrimination that people of color encounter as they work to establish their own businesses and brands. Players in the apparel industry responded by establishing grants and mentorships and by pledging to dedicate more dollars to people-of-color-owned businesses. Come fall, expect to see the industry reflect on the progress it has made to promote equality and diversity, and the work that lies ahead.
The retail apocalypse of 2020 did little to quell concerns about the already fragile state of brick-and-mortar retail. Brands, however, may turn to one of the 8,000-plus storefronts that went dark in 2020, according to Coresight Research, to open a popup shop. A temporary space is the best way to gauge consumer interest and to test a retail concept, not to mention it adds an instant buzz factor to a brand’s story.
Age of Aquarius
Millennials love astrology and they love to tell others their sign. Global fashion search platform Lyst reported that searches for “zodiac sign” and “birth sign” collectively increased 56 percent year-over-year. Intrigue in the zodiacs (and zodiac-themed fashion) is likely to persevere as 2021 signals the new Age of Aquarius, a period that astrologists associate with community, humanity and advancements in technology—qualities that resonate deeply with the cohort.
Beyond burgers, consumers’ vegan lifestyles are influencing all aspects of fashion. Retail market intelligence platform Edited reported that vegan arrivals saw an upwards trajectory in 2020, increasing 8 percent year-over-year, and with consumers increasingly concerned about their health and the environment, vegan products have major growth potential. And brands know it, including jeans labels. AMO, Boyish, Nudie Jeans and Mother are among the denim brands that bypass the traditional leather patch for a more animal-friendly alternative or skip the branding opportunity all together.
Millennials’ pandemic exodus from New York City sparked debates about what it means to “I [heart] NY,” but the city’s population was dwindling before it was the U.S. epicenter of Covid-19 last spring. The Big Apple landed at the bottom of financial advisor SmartAssets’s 2020 study on where millennials are moving. Based on Census Bureau data from 2018, the study showed that more than 50,400 millennials left the city that year. The same study, however, points to mid-size cities like Seattle, Denver, Austin and Charlotte as hubs with burgeoning millennial populations. As such, expect to see retailers and brands relocate some of their expansion and marketing efforts to these areas, too.
According to data by the NPD Group, three out of every four people in the U.S. play video games, and 35 percent of gamers report their playing time increased during Covid-19. It is no wonder then why fashion brands are actively integrating gaming components to their consumer outreach strategies. Ralph Lauren introduced Holiday Run in December, an online game featuring the Polo Bear. Meanwhile, Tommy Hilfiger recently dressed Animal Crossing characters in its Fall 2020 collection. With consumers plugged into their gaming devices more than ever, expect to see more brands—big and small—giving gaming a try.
Uncertainty continues to loom, but experts anticipate post-prohibition-style outbursts in 2021. How that will manifest in a market inundated with practical, comfortable fashion and fewer deliveries is anyone’s guess, but don’t discount your vacation and festive party wear just yet.