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Covid Revs Men’s Interest in Comfort and Activewear, Experts Say

Function is winning out over fashion in men’s wear in the time of coronavirus.

With so many men working from home, holding Zoom meetings and generally not dressing up for any limited outside contact they might have, casual and comfortable fabrics and styling are ruling the day.

In addition, the desire to stay healthy by staying active also puts performance wear front and center in a man’s wardrobe. And like many lifestyle changes that have developed during the pandemic, trend watchers expect the comfort and active styling to remain a key focus for quite some time.

“Men’s wear fabrics for next fall reflect the movements toward casual and activewear, both of which dovetail with our current reality of comfortable clothes to wear at home,” Sharon Graubard, founder and creative director of MintModa, said. “Even when, and if, life returns to some semblance to what we knew as normal, I imagine men will not be giving up the comfort factor so readily.”

Graubard said tailored pants seem to have been the first item to go and with them, the “hard” wovens required to maintain a sharp crease. These have been replaced by soft sweats and gym shorts, most with adjustable waists.

“When perusing social media work-from-home looks, I’ve seen several men wearing sarongs–it’s all about the ‘business on top, fun on the bottom’ approach. Even jeans seem a bit too constricting for the new quarantine dress code,” she said.

Even before the sheltering-in-place orders, men’s wear fabrics were “leaning toward the cozy,” Graubard said. She cited sherpa fleece as a key material that has gotten fluffier and more luxurious than previous versions. Many of these fleeces have a clumpy, dense pile and come in sophisticated neutrals that are perfect for casual jackets, she noted. Corduroy is making a comeback, particularly in plush wide-wale versions, and is used in pants, jackets and outerwear, MintModa has found.

“Nylons work for track pants or for quilted puffers, which are either flat as a moving blanket or voluminously inflated,” Graubard said. “For cut-and-sew jersey, it’s about knits with character. Oversized piqués or waffles give even the simplest T or polo some interest and dimension. Sweater knits have a rustic artisanal feel, often with raw edges.”

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In contrast to pervasive soft matte surfaces, the newest shirtings have a bit of shine, mostly in lustrous cottons, she added. For outerwear weights, fabrics tend to be dense, with a boiled-wool effect. Blanket plaids are key, generally large-scale buffalo checks or tartan yarn-dyes, sometimes with a soft brushed surface.

Men’s wear tweeds like herringbones get a soft touch, often in blends for loft and suppleness, and when the silhouettes call for a refined suiting, the fabrics have a bit of stretch for comfort and bounce-back.

Graubard added that similar to women’s wear, leather and leather-like looks are key in men’s, not only for moto jackets but for leather pants and leather shirts. Some leathers or leather alternatives have a shiny or metallic finish, which adds a bit of edge to informal ensembles.

Edited’s latest blog addressing “3 Winning Narratives for Neutrals in Men’s Wear” says “neutrals are taking a front seat in men’s wear.” They lend well as a calming shade during a tough time for many and can pair back to other pieces, it noted.

Edited reported that “back to basics” arrivals are up 31 percent and 18 percent in the U.S. and U.K., respectively.

“Retailers are ramping up investment in neutral comfort stories across both regions,” Edited said. “T-shirts remain the top stocked category, followed by shorts and hoodies. Suits-sets noted a heavy increase in arrivals year over year thanks to boohooMAN’s investment in tracksuits following a quick reaction to lockdown measures. The top three investors in loungewear across both regions were boohooMAN, Zara and H&M.”

Edited noted that investment in outdoors-inspired products and staycation stories are a safe bet and will grow in importance if lockdowns continue.

“The biggest benefit when it comes to a comfort story is the year-round appeal it provides,” the blog said. “Whether working-from-home or lounging on the weekend, there will always be a place for loungewear in the consumer’s closet.”

With products often colored up in neutral shades, linen proved to be a standout trend this season. Mentions of summer’s favorite fabric grew 9 percent year over year across retailer emails in the second quarter, and the material works for dressed-up looks amid rising temperatures, something to keep in mind for Spring 2021, Edited said. Moving into fall, a focus on tactile fabrics will remain, offering a refresh for neutral staples such as knits and outerwear.

“Fabric advancements and increased hygiene are two of the essential stories within tailoring at the moment,” Edited stated in the blog. “From antibacterial fabrics to stretch properties for added comfort, these will be more important than ever to give the consumer peace of mind and flexibility around when to wear the trend.”

Streetwear looks also have maintained a foothold in the mass market and neutral palettes remain important, Edited noted. A function-first approach will be key for Fall 2020, with details like pockets, zips, buckles and tech fabrics at the fore.

David Parkes, president of Concept III, says consumers are “taking advantage of the outdoors.”

“People are cycling, running, kayaking, boating and hiking, so the outdoor activity is very active, and they’re buying,” he added. “People are buying outdoor equipment and in turn, people are looking at outdoor apparel.”

Outdoor bands are highly visible and market themselves well, Parkes added, so shoppers have confidence in quality when they are buying brands such as Lululemon, L.L. Bean, The North Face or Patagonia.

“When we were developing fall/winter 2020, the focus was on natural fibers, sustainability, biodegradable and that realm, and we expect that will be very important,” Parkes said. “In outerwear, Primaloft insulation, the puff jacket was a big category, and then performance textiles in terms of wicking and cooling, will be the main stories.”

David Roshan, president of Laguna Fabrics, said the biggest trend is sustainability and how important that has become for men’s wear, followed by brands and consumers wanting to buy American-made products.

“We are GOTS-certified and we have a lot of people coming to us for organic cotton,” Roshan said.

Within that area, he noted two key trends for men’s wear: rigid fabrics like jerseys and cords, and soft drapey fabrics that are blends of Tencel and organic cotton or hemp with organic cotton.

“All that lends itself for loungewear, casualwear and activewear,” he said. “We’re also still doing very well with the French terries and fleeces.”

Roshan said these seasonless looks address consumers’ demand for casual, work-at-home apparel.