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6 Apparel Themes to Watch in 2022

By many accounts, 2021 was a very good year for the apparel industry in the United States.

Even though people last year hunkered down at home or returned to work on a limited basis, they acquired more clothes than seen in recent years.

The catch, however, is that shopping bags weren’t stuffed with suits, dresses, khaki pants or button-down shirts. A lot more purchases were made in casual categories such as jogging pants, pajamas, loungewear and athleisure.

The result is that in 2021, U.S. consumers snatched up $246.2 billion in apparel, a 33 percent jump from the $185.2 billion seen in 2020, according to The NPD Group, a global marketing information company in Port Washington, N.Y.

“Consumers were spending more in clothing, especially for items they know they will get the most use from like sleepwear and activewear,” said Maria Rugalo, one of the authors of the NPD report that focused on apparel-buying areas in 2022.

Even though inflation contributed to some of that dollar volume increase, unit sales were up 21 percent.

As the world transitions into another uncertain year, here are some of the hot apparel categories and pricing trends NPD analysts identified.

Price tag

This seems counterintuitive in a year when many people chose to quit their jobs or saw reduced salaries, but in 2021 apparel promotions plummeted while prices perked up. Last year, 44 percent of consumers bought their clothing on sale, a 5 percent drop from the previous year. But that could change.

This year, shoppers said pricing is the most important factor behind their purchases after comfort. Clothing makers and retailers need to figure out whether consumers are ready to trade up or trade down. “With fewer stimulus checks, more debt, and higher pricing expected for 2022, it will be interesting to see what this means for promotions in the future,” Rugalo noted.

Two-thirds of fashion executives said they expect to bump prices by 3 percent in 2022, citing higher shipping and raw material costs and rising labor expenses, according to this year’s State of Fashion 2022, a report by the Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Co.

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Social club

JCPenney's new Mutual Weave men's wear label focuses on denim
Denim will be popular next year. JCPenney’s new Mutual Weave men’s wear private label focuses on jeans. Courtesy

As people resume their office and leisure routines, jeans will be the gateway to dressing up and getting out into the social scene. Jeans can be dressed up or dressed down. A fancy top or a tailored blazer can do the trick to make jeans look more professional but carry consumers into a casual evening of gathering with friends or colleagues. Dresses will become less structured and more free-flowing.

Instead of having multiple wardrobes carved out for evening, work or play, clothing collections will address numerous activities. Think stretchy pants that can be worn at the office or at the gym. At the same time, everyday casual basics, innerwear and sleepwear are growing their sales at higher price points because everyone still wants to be comfortable. Who What Wear just launched a dress style called the Shayna that is made of a bouclé yarn and comes with matching socks for head-to-toe comfort.

All inclusive

In this world of gender, race, and size inclusivity, apparel companies must develop clothing that can be worn by a variety of people while offering a range of sizes and styles. “This year will likely be a turning point in the apparel industry’s understanding of the impacts that come along with being more inclusive,” the organizers of the study wrote.

A number of companies have emerged to provide fashions for small and large sizes and reach out to more customers. Those labels include Big Bud Press, which creates monochromatic styles in sizes XXS to 7XL, and Stuzo Clothing, which wants to create a fashion world where all are welcome without judgment. Clothing sizes range from S to XXXL.

Me moment

Self-care took on new importance during the pandemic with people investing in workout gear, buying scented candles and scooping up comfy sweatshirts. Yoga specialist Lululemon saw its third-quarter revenues in 2021 jump 30 percent year-over-year.

In the future, athleisure clothing will become a part of shoppers’ regular self-care investments.

Sustainability in fashion

NPD found that many consumers equate “sustainable” with something that lasts a long time. So, apparel companies need to monitor whether customers feel it is an investment to buy clothes pledged to be sustainable or whether they will pivot to alternatives, like rentals or resale items.

Syncing up

It’s a brave new world out there and clothing companies are reaching a younger generation of consumers in a more technological way. Retailers are outfitting customers’ avatars in the metaverse and testing the waters with digital showrooms. Shoppers can “try on” outfits without leaving their homes. Social media will become more important than ever.