Make no mistake, the pandemic is reshaping how consumers view fashion. Consumers are more conscious about the expense of clothing—on both their wallets and the planet—than ever before. They want to support brands that mirror their own values. And they shop with practicality top of mind. Emotions stirred up by the pandemic, however, are the drivers behind several Fall/Winter 2021-2022 trends, according to experts at trend forecasting firm WGSN.
In a webinar Wednesday, held in partnership with Informa Markets Fashion, the organizer of Project, Coterie, Micam Americas and more, WGSN mindset director Amiyra Perkins and Noah Zagor, senior North American menswear strategist, outlined the key themes and products retailers need to know as they begin their F/W 21-22 buys.
“We know that there’s been a lot of emotional highs and emotional lows, but most importantly it’s really led to a sense of uncertainty,” Perkin said about the events of 2020. “As we start to navigate what this looks like you’ll start to see that consumers are really looking for something that will help brighten their days.”
Here’s a look at the key themes to watch for in men’s wear and women’s contemporary fashion.
The women’s contemporary market will take inspiration from timeless art and retro influences, and will embrace the comfort movement that is sweeping fashion. F/W 21-22 will also be a time for brands and retailers to emphasize “above the keyboard” dressing and show consumers a new twist on formal wear.
Must-have items include: quilted coats, draped dresses, historic dresses, exaggerated collar blouses, knitted vests, pull-on trousers, streamlined Chelsea boots and wide-shaft boots.
In “Vintage Futurist,” Perkins said the category addresses the mainstreaming of thrifted and resale apparel and how they are influencing a “sweet with street” style. This fondness for old garments speaks to consumers’ awareness of sustainability, but it also brings a new level of romance and sentimentality to fashion—or emotional dressing. Women are starting to use fashion as an outlet for self-expression, even if it’s only for “above the keyboard,” she added.
Thrifting is no longer about “scraping through your grandmother’s closet,” Perkins said. The look for F/W 21-22 is centered around “gentle” notions of vintage and retro as well as Victorian elements like exaggerated sleeves, shoulders and collars. Vintage stripes, checks, novelty Fair Isles and furnishing florals live here, and are used on garments like fit-and-flare dresses, full skirts and duvet coats.
Few are back in the office, but consumers who miss the sense of sartorial dressing will enjoy the “New Traditionalist, a theme that builds on relaxed suiting and almost trend-less fashion. Pull-on trousers with elasticized waistbands, simple wrap shirts and the blazer dress embody this look. Soft folds and darts, slits and textures pulled from traditional men’s wear, however, add depth to pieces.
In an effort to evoke comfort, knits have become a staple in designer collections as of late. The theme “Knit-timate Leisurist” melds this idea with athleisure for the ultimate at-home fashion statement that also works for errand-running. Premium leggings, bodysuits, elevated sets and a minimal yet refined color palette coin this look.
“You’re now starting to see what people are wanting to wear to and from the house, so this will directly inspire the level of comfort, the level of pile and texture that is incorporated into their clothing,” Perkins said.
Consumers are also interested in adding technical elements to their fashion. “Tech Utilitarian” takes into consideration what commuter fashion will look like for women—from hybrid joggers, overshirts and statement layers to weather-proof outerwear. Perkins noted that they’ll be looking for a sense of protection in the quilting that is included within their layering pieces as well.
“You really want to have items that are hybrid styles that allow for indoor/outdoor use, but also help them throughout the season with…the sort of unexpected weather patterns,” she said.
The theme “Neoclassical Romanticist” pulls fashion into an entirely different direction. Inspired by the pre-Raphaelite era, this is where day wear and evening wear collide in a pandemic world. Silhouettes are timeless and simple—think fluid dresses and printed shirts—and serve as a canvas for stately adornments, embellishments, volume and dramatic florals splashed over a dark base.
“What’s really interesting about this is it would traditionally be what you consider a holiday assortment, but in reality, it’s just about adding those exaggerated details again into your day to day,” Perkins said.
Arguably the most eclectic theme for women’s contemporary, the “Imperfect Crafter” connects directly to the overall DIY, outdoor and sustainability trends playing out in fashion. Elements of “old artisanal techniques” such as embroidery, patchwork, mending and paneling update utility items like shackets, quilted coats and knitted vests, Perkins said.
Sustainability, versatility and function will guide the men’s market, but the season will also see a renewed interested in classic designs, Zagor said, which is common during uncertain times.
“We can rely on them, they’re safe, and men—even the most progressive men—are notoriously less experimental with fashion than within the women’s market, so those classic ideas really become important in these moments,” he said.
Work-from-home lifestyles mark a major theme that’s going to continue to influence men’s fashion as well. Specifically, Zagor said remote work is leading to more searches for casual tailoring and keywords like fleece. “These are tactical, textured soft comfortable items that offer the consumer that sense of sort of safety protection, but also coziness that’s so key right now,” he said.
Key items for the season include: lightweight tech parkas, shackets, cardigans, statement knits, cargo utility pants, circular jeans, hybrid hikers and embellished loafers.
The abundance of outdoor-inspired fashion during F/W 21-22 men’s fashion week in Milan, London and Paris was no fluke. It’s the exact look that makes up WGSN’s “Outdoor Maximalist” theme, which Zagor said taps into the desire to escape the confines of home. Practical garments like “retro vintage” hiking clothing and fleeces that would typically be worn in nature are being worn in the city.
This look will evolve into more quilted shackets, paneled carpenter jeans, mid-layer fleeces and items that further blur the line between tech wear and fashion, like modular bags and technical parkas. Abstract camouflage, plaids, nature-inspired textures and monogram prints—a la Gucci x The North Face—will add the fashion element.
“Artful Mysticist” tells a different type of escapist story. Based on spirituality and a growing appreciation for arts and crafts from different cultures, Zagor said the goal here is to celebrate cultures without appropriating, and one way to do this is to align with Fair Trade partners to produce items that are authentic and support artisans.
Flowing layers, matching sets, boxy pajama tops and pleated trousers make up the look, but accents like printed scarves, historical brooches and deadstock prints add edge.
“If you’re not participating in some sort of sustainable and responsible initiative, you’re in the minority at this point,” Zagor said. “It’s gone from being a novel way to differentiate yourself, to [becoming] a standard that we really are all trying to achieve.”
Fashion can’t seem to shake off nostalgia, but throwback themes for F/W 21-22 are less obvious, Zagor said. The “Gentle Nostalgist” offers emotional comfort through pieces that reference earth tones from the ’70s and teal and purple from the ’90s. It also carries into prints like horizontal stripes, traditional tartans and interior-inspired florals.
“Nostalgia can go all the way from a corduroy suit to a neon parka,” he added. “They all sort of fall under this bigger umbrella.”
The theme “Comfort Sartorialist” picks up where conversations about the so-called return of suiting and polished looks left off prior to the pandemic. That demand for sharper fashion hasn’t waned, but Zagor said it’s wise to keep comfort in mind.
“Maybe a traditional structured suit isn’t the way to go, but heritage fabrics, great wooly checks and tweeds and plaids for the fall and winter seasons make a lot of sense. Maybe it’s a cardigan or an overshirt instead of a blazer,” he said,
Items have already been trending, like loafers and rugby shirts, while “beautiful, textured” knitwear also live here.
“Tech Minimalist” is a complete departure, yet it relates to the desire to “strip things back” and keep fashion simple, Zagor said.
Technical trims, breathable membranes, waterproof zippers and garments outfitted with functional or modular pocketing are key. The story is also a chance for brands to introduce sustainable synthetics made with recycled fibers.
“We do need clothing that performs and a minimalist take on that will still keep things very sophisticated and clean,” he said, adding that silhouettes are slim-fitting.
Technical features are used in the “New World Escapist” as well, but the aesthetic is bolder and more dystopian with strong nods to outdoor apparel.
Modular styles and oversized silhouettes, like the extreme puffer, smack of “off-the-grid” living, but it’s the combination of dark and vibrant colors that will speak to consumers living in an urban setting, Zagor said.
Color blocking, distorted patterns and digital marbling inject color, while details like power cords and waterproofing provide function. Mixing upcycled pieces from deadstock fabric also gives this “modern futuristic look” a vintage touch that helps ground the whole theme, Zagor added.