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The Fashion Trends Consumers Are ‘Craving’: Week Ahead

Fashion capsules closer to the selling season, changes to wear-to-work styles, more fabric innovation and even a new, sleeker look for men’s wear are some of the changes ahead for later this year.

Those are some of the possible fashion themes experts are forecasting for when consumers are ready to update their wardrobes again.

The National Retail Federation this week forecast annual retail sales growth of between 6.5 percent to 8.2 percent in 2021, representing the highest growth rate since 2004. The retail industry trade group said sales could start to climb beginning in the second quarter, which begins in May on retail calendars, before rising in the third quarter.

Retail data firm Customer Growth Partners is estimating an increase of 8.1 percent for the year, buoyed by pent-up demand and federal assistance from stimulus programs. And on Wednesday, TJX CEO Ernie Herrman believes “a surge in apparel” sales is likely to materialize in Q2.

Expectations are high, particularly because many see 2020 as a lost year due to the coronavirus pandemic. They are hoping 2021 is the year when people can go back to living their normal lives again. Roughly 12 months into the outbreak and a few more months to go, Covid fatigue has become a buzz phrase describing the malaise of being tired of living carefully, cooped up and fearful of catching the virus, which has claimed more than 500,000 lives in the U.S. alone.

At a Retail Marketing Society web event, Patrick McKeever, president and founder of The Daily on Retail, said there have been pockets of strength at retail in 2020. With retail sales up 5.3 percent in January, the “reasonable” 8.1 percent growth projection “could be done,” he said.

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During a discussion on trends at the event, Sharon Graubard, cofounder and creative director at MintModa trend forecasting, said she believes that designers will be creating smaller collections so there’s less waste with capsules. She’s starting to see new fashion styles offered closer to the selling season. Currently, retail delivery cycles aren’t in sync with the fashion calendar, and the pandemic will provide a reset aligning the fashion and selling seasons.

“I think there’s a craving for tailoring and a craving for structure. I think we’ll see jackets, and people are kind of craving to wear a pair of trousers, although the elastic waist will definitely continue,” Graubard said.

Much of the newness will be innovation in the fabric, not so much embroidered, but more subtle, she said. “So, for athleisure, maybe it’s comfort fabrics and soft to the touch, and feels sensual against the skin,” she continued. In addition, new techniques and fabrics will bring back bodycon silhouettes, where the compression will be more flattering than before.

Trend forecasters from MintMod and Made Trends see demand for statement coats, structured garments, tailoring and elevated athleisure.

In men’s fashion, Graubard said casual wear is getting sleeker, noting that sweatpants will be slimmer and cut more like a trouser. Blazers will be back in style, as will the coat, but the emphasis will be on statement outerwear. Suits and ties won’t go away post-pandemic because some like the “instant look,” she said. Graubard expects to see men pair suits and ties with sneakers for a more “fun” look.

“We know everyone is getting very excited to get out of their homes to get back to their lives. We know that they’re shopping more. We know that there’s a lot of [the] middle class [we call] HENRY—high earners, not rich yet—who have a lot of disposable income so we know that there’s money to be spent,” Autumn Zimmerman, principal and global creative director, Made Trends, said. “We would argue that formal dressing, and even office dressing, will have completely changed. We know people are interested in comfort and functionality, and they like this idea of lightweight apparel.”

Zimmerman said some people will continue to work from home part-time, and believes “pieces that they can kind of flex in and out” will be the items of choice.

She expects to see more spending to come from millennials, who now have more disposable income since they didn’t get to spend it on travel and entertainment. The rising Gen Z demographic is looking more for apparel that reflects self expression. “We see more inclusivity across sizes, across categories, across gender. And it’s really more about mixing and matching, like what feels unique to you,” she said.

Beth Sobol, founder and CEO Global Fashion Business Alliance, believes fashion will see more production that’s “on-demand,” and less about producing for seasons that are six months out. She also sees a move towards greater control and flexibility in the supply chain, particularly among younger designers.

“You know when a designer is in control of their production. As a result, [that makes] the difference in the world for them to be positioned to be making changes more quickly within their own companies. They’re able to produce as much or as little as the retailer needs. They can change the style and fit for the consumers,” Sobol said. “Independent, emerging designers are vertical, they have their own factories so they have a close relationship with a local country, and they’re able to, you know, make the changes and control their production to fit the needs much quicker.”

Sobol expects to see designers taking to the streets in their own neighborhoods for inspiration. With some people leaving cities, Sobol expects the young people who remain will bring forward a “whole new level of inspiration.”