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Casual Wear, Gorpcore, and How Modern Fashion Compares with the Roaring ‘20s

As we enter the year 2021, experts look back on this time one century ago to see how consumer attitudes—and the resulting fashion—have evolved. The juxtaposition of the 1920s and the 2020s brings to light key values that have defined the present day, and will continue to shape fashion for years to come.

During a Project Digital webinar this week led by fashion podcast host Jeremy Kirkland, trend experts highlighted the onslaught of polished casual in men’s wear, pointing to pandemic hero pieces such as baggy pleated corduroys and chore coats that elevate comfortable styles for optimal versatility. According to Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, transitional pieces like these are the top demand among post-pandemic consumers.

“It’s this duality of utility and versatility,” he said. “We’re living through a time where we’ve had to adjust our needs. I never used to go out in the middle of the day and take walks, for example.”

Adding a chore coat—an item he calls a “third piece”—to any basic shirt and pant will pull the look together. Even when the pandemic becomes a distant memory, this preference for casual will likely stay put, he said.

Activewear and outerwear are other categories that are thriving during the pandemic, supported by research from Edited that demonstrates a clear opportunity for women’s jackets, as they make up 9 percent of product in stock, and account for 13 percent of sellouts. Panelists explained that “gorpcore,” which incorporates an acronym for “good ol’ raisins and peanuts,” has emerged as a top look among pandemic consumers using this time to reconnect with nature. It’s defined by functional outdoor pieces like utility vests, fleece jackets and hiking boots. Rediscovering the great outdoors is a natural shift during uncertain times, Pask said.

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“Nature right now is a really grounding force,” he said. “You walk outside, see a tree and know that it’s been there for generations. It helps put things in a perspective that is a little more manageable.”

But while casual fashion and outerwear are having their moment, panelists agreed that, much like the 1920s, a shift toward occasion dressing is bound to emerge. Once vaccines are more widely distributed and restrictions lift, it’s believed that consumers will want to celebrate their freedom and dress the part, whether the occasion is a twice-rescheduled wedding or just a dinner out with friends.

Even now, while some areas of the world continue to experience spikes in Covid-19 cases, some consumers are dressing up to stay in. House dresses, as well as garments with bold color palettes and sequin embellishments, are all trending, according to global fashion search platform Lyst.

While flashy attire may be the only connection between the fashion of the 1920s and 2020s, Pask suggests that context is crucial—and that, in both instances, consumer mindsets are what drove the fashion trends of the time.

“In the 1920s, society was coming out of a victory in World War I. There was huge economic growth, and the proliferation of the automobile,” he said. “Today, we’re coming out of a collective trauma due to the pandemic, as well as economic devastation and our reckoning with social justice. The circumstances are very different.”