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Denim: The Fashion Industry’s Comeback Kid

It has been a busy Q1 for the apparel industry, which saw another fashion month play out across digital platforms while glimmers of normalcy, thanks in part to vaccines, inspire consumers to think about dressing for occasions outside their homes.

And change is in the air, according to recent data from retail analytics firm Edited. New arrivals and recent sellouts point to a shift in the silhouettes, fabrics and colors that consumers want, and as a result, its allowing categories like denim to reclaim some of the market share it lost last year.

From the Gen Z resuscitation of Crocs to Versace’s strategic use of nostalgic prints, fashion loves a good comeback story. Fashionistas, however, are hard-pressed to name a garment that has dodged irrelevance more than jeans.

Though “overshadowed” by the fleece and jersey loungewear basics that brands flooded their collections with in an effort to stay top of mind during the pandemic, Edited said Q1 2021 “solidified” denim’s long-awaited return.

Echoing Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh’s recent statements about a “denim resurgence” and the category entering a new cycle, Edited attributed denim’s next act to the vaccine campaigns being rolled out across the U.S. and U.K. and the commodity’s consistent presence on the runway.

“Retailers can feel optimistic once again about the wardrobe staple’s performance,” Edited said.

Jeans are certainly available in the market. Edited data shows retailers are placing a stronger emphasis on denim within new bottoms assortments versus sweatpants for women’s wear—and consumers are responding with their dollars. New denim styles made up six percent of bottoms selling out compared to sweatpants at five percent.

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But what worked well for denim prior to the pandemic might not perform at the same degree in 2021, particularly as consumers have grown more environmentally conscious and more insistent on dressing for comfort in the last 12 months. While skinny jeans may be collateral damage in this comeback story, it tees up the opportunity for retailers to offer relaxed styles like straight and wide-leg jeans with soft, vintage hand feels.

Beyond classic blue jeans, Edited urged retailers to take a closer look at patchwork denim before the directional trend, which was seen in recent collections by Lutz Huelle, Antonio Marras and Red Valentino, “floods the mainstream market.”

While patchwork denim “ticks all the boxes as a surefire trend with runway backing and influencer approval,” Edited noted that it also compliments fashion’s ongoing ’70s and ’90s trends and provides retailers a way to bring repurposed and upcycled materials to their sales floors.

Status of loungewear

Denim’s revival doesn’t mean an end to loungewear, which continues to see growth after a year of unprecedented demand.

Though jeans gained momentum in women’s, they were not as sought after in the men’s market. The style of choice? Cozy joggers, Edited reported, which are outpacing demand and making up eight percent of  bottoms sell outs.

The men’s loungewear category, in general, is on the upswing. New styles arriving since the start of the year across T-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, sweatpants and leggings saw a combined uptick in arrivals by 34 percent year-over-year and a 64 percent increase in sell outs, Edited reported. Those with a streetwear edge like oversized hoodies and sweatpants, color blocking and tie-dye prints are the “top moving trends to date.”

Sustainable and comfortable, Tommy Jeans' new genderless “Luv the World” collection is brimming with tie-dye and positive messages.
Tommy Jeans Courtesy

Sell outs for women’s loungewear in Q1 were more conservative at nine percent, with the biggest drivers being leggings—from ribbed knits and seamless, to styles with split hems.

Like denim, the loungewear category will need to adapt to stay relevant. Premium fabrics like cashmere and snuggly fabrications such as teddy and French Terry are on track to be key trends for fall. But to keep the look fresh, Edited urged retailers to harness “other notable runway themes” such as ’90s prep. Retailers also have an opportunity to merchandise knit sweaters and polo shirts alongside the throwback track sets that are coming back into style.

Old is new again

Nostalgia, in general, is a solid theme to bet on. The influence of past eras sweeps across men’s and women’s fashion, but it’s also shaping accessories trends.

With the ’70s being a major focus on the Fall/Winter 21-22 runway, Edited said consumers want items that they’ve spied on the catwalk, including headscarves, retro sunglasses and platform shoes.

New arrivals and recent sellouts point to a shift in the silhouettes, fabrics and colors that consumers want, according to Edited.
Dior Pre-Fall 2021 WWD

A staple of the ’90s, bucket hats are another accoutrement to watch. The topper saw a 24 percent increase in new arrivals year-over-year. “Keep the momentum up for colder months in fall-approved patterns such as checks and animal prints,” Edited suggested.

Meanwhile, other accessories from the decade such as mini bags and glittery clutches are bound to resonate with consumers shopping for special occasions. This same customer is likely to enjoy the “Y2K-friendly chunky rings” that are dominating jewelry assortments.

Color up

If soothing neutrals and pink won 2020, two color trends that emerged in Q1 2021 point to a more outgoing and hopeful tomorrow.

Sunny shades of yellow captivated men’s wear during the quarter. As one half of Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2021, yellow’s accession may not be a major surprise, but its widespread appeal is. Yellow linen shirts resonated with traditional dressers, while yellow hoodies, T-shirts and active shorts performed well in the streetwear and sportswear categories, Edited said.

The color also lends itself to the technical aspect of outerwear, particularly puffer coats and as details on cargo pants such as toggles or patchwork.

Meanwhile, bright, vibrant shades of green saw success in high summer assortments merchandised across basic tees, floral blouses, sleeveless tops and tailored trousers, Edited reported.

New arrivals and recent sellouts point to a shift in the silhouettes, fabrics and colors that consumers want, according to Edited.
Kenzo Fall 2021 WWD

While earthier colors like olive and forest green continue to perform well for basics and garments made with natural textured fabrics like linen, Edited said Gen Z’s fondness for Y2K fashion is bringing the brighter shades to the fore. Retailers can play into this teen aesthetic by applying green to silk and ribbed materials to give more dimension.

What yellow might lack in momentum for fall, green makes up for by fitting into the season’s preppy trend. “Checks and plaids can be colored up and applied to co-ords, pleated miniskirts and sweater vests to build a collegiate look,” Edited said.

Softer shades of green like juniper and seaweed also enhance the cozy look of fluffy sweaters and other knits.