As more people work remotely from the comfort of their homes, they tend to put leggings, sweats, joggers and other comfy-cozy styles into heavy rotation at the expense of suits, collared shirts and other buttoned-up attire. That casualization is what many kids “are exposed to” from mom or dad, busy on their phones and laptops in the home office, according to Mintel senior research analyst Alexis DeSalva, who covers U.S. retail and e-commerce.
This “trickledown effect” explains why both adults and kids show a preference for casual options across their wardrobes. Casual tops are the most frequently purchased category for kids, DeSalva noted, and three quarters of parents are buying basics like easy-wear tees and denim bottoms for their progeny.
The shift toward relaxed fits and informal silhouettes goes by many names, says DeSalva—from edgy streetwear to gym-ready and errands-appropriate athleisure—but regardless of nomenclature the movement is underway. Even teen retailer American Eagle Outfitters is paying homage to the trend encroaching on its denim empire by hosting a yearlong Urban Necessities sneaker resale shop-in-shop inside its SoHo store, DeSalva noted.
The Mintel analyst says teens unburdened by the obligations of a social calendar packed with formal occasions will naturally find their wardrobes “leaning toward casual.” Plus, with the middle- and high-school crowd trading in-the-moment Snapchat messages at lightning speed, the stakes aren’t as high to look perfect,” DeSalva explained. “Casual is now cool.”
The collapse of teen retailer Charlotte Russe could be a symptom of the casualization that’s de-emphasizing trendy fast-fashion in favor of Champion sweatshirts, Fila jackets and shoes from Nike, Vans and Converse that put comfort on par with style. But DeSalva says the juniors market, influenced as ever by what they see in their virtual social spheres, is responding to brands like young women’s lingerie label Aerie, which has garnered plaudits for using untouched phots of “real” women including Paralympic medalist Brenna Huckaby and British plus-size personality Iska Lawrence to showcase bralettes, thongs, swimsuits and more.
Smartphones command teens’ attention and a world of movies and TV shows is just a Netflix log-in away. The culture of staying in applies not just to grown-ups embracing their inner foodie and preferring to conjure up gourmet meals at home but also to teens who can find myriad ways to entertain themselves indoors. “Crossover clothing” is nice enough to be worn out and about but doesn’t look out of place curled up on the sofa, DeSalva noted. Instead of having dedicated sections of their wardrobe for going out, more people, including young women, choose pieces that are versatile enough to suit numerous occasions, she added.
With new options for accessing rather than purchasing apparel, some young consumers are embracing “alternative ownership,” DeSalva noted. Services like Rent the Runway’s subscription option enable the “fashion girl who wants to test out those trends,” she continued, without requiring a long-term commitment to what often turns out to be a passing fad. Even secondhand resale sites like ThredUp are catching on with teens, the analyst pointed out. “We do see among younger adults, including those of higher income, that secondhand retailers are increasingly popular, and more so than with older consumers,” DeSalva explained. These sites get a big boost from word-of-mouth; a teen who finds out that someone in her circle shops on a pre-owned clothing site gets the confirmation that it’s an acceptable option for her as well, she noted.
Even as these more sustainable approaches to accessing fashion take hold, one fundamental truth will remain. According to DeSalva, “deal-seeking behavior will always dominate.”