It took a pandemic for American women to get what they wanted all along from their clothes: comfort that allows us to feel good and look good.
The fashion industry has taken notice of what we are buying now — and what we are leaving behind. And retailers have responded with a decidedly more relaxed viewpoint.
Judging from fall and winter styles, the pendulum is not swinging back to yesterday’s tight fashions that often required Spanx to squeeze into them. This is great news for those of us who are used to breathing easy in sweats and yoga pants during Zoom calls with colleagues and friends.
Sure, there were some missteps over the summer with the ill-advised nap dress that let us pretend we could leave the house in a glorified nightgown. But that is to be expected when an industry shifts so quickly to accommodate consumer demand. Now it’s time to inject some actual fashion into the comfort dynamic.
Upscale lines such as Jil Sander to mainstream mall retailers like revitalized Banana Republic are delivering on that challenge with their current cool- to cold-weather offerings. Buzzwords like “easy,” “loose” and “utilitarian” abound. All are code for comfortable.
Here are seven notable trends influenced by the pandemic that are well-suited to our new normal of relaxed fashion and to the months ahead.
Sweater Knits: Just as you couldn’t escape sweatshirt fleece in 2020, you’ll find sweater knits everywhere and for everything this year. Of course, there are the standard pullovers and cardigans, but so much more. Find knit pants and joggers at H&M ($25) or pastel knit drawstring pants from LoveShackFancy ($375) at Bloomingdale’s. There are refined knit dresses in designer collections like Lela Rose ($1,290) at Nordstrom and sexy off-the-shoulder midi dresses ($80) at Loft. And for those going into work, a three-piece sweater suit with skirt at Ann Taylor ($248) promises to be “great for sitting at your desk — and comfortable enough for your commute.”
That ’90s Vibe: The boomerang trend that’s resurfaced for winter is the ’90s – a decade devoted to slouchy cool. It is the look-of-the-moment in denim, where loose, straight legs and a higher rise are eclipsing skinny cuts that now feel too tight and restrictive. Find the styling and price that suit you at Nordstrom ($188) to Gap ($70). Another ’90s nod goes to plaids, which are inspired more by cotton flannel than the Scottish Highlands. Gap nails it with an overgrown shirt jacket in ’90s plaids of blue, ivory or brown ($168) and Nordstrom offers Treasure & Bond’s oversize boyfriend shirt in laid-back plaids of dusty blue, gray or rust ($59).
Fabrics With Give: Tight-fitting is just not happening this season. Cuts are noticeably looser and fabrics more forgiving. Betabrand.com’s “dress pants that feel like yoga pants” ($68) feature wrinkle-resistant ponte fabric with four-way stretch, which gets high praise from reviewers for being “buttery soft.” Ann Taylor touts its double-knit collection with 7 percent Spandex as “comfort chic at its finest,” and provides options in dresses, pants and blazers ($89–$178).
Longer Lengths: Three words — midi, maxi, longline — define winter fashion. Longer dresses, sweaters and skirts shield us from the cold and create personal cocoons we can snuggle into indoors. Wrap up in what Lands’ End touts as “our longest cardigan yet,” which hits at mid-thigh ($70), or slip into Old Navy’s longline open-front sweater ($45) in six versatile shades. The right flow and drape ensure this extra length doesn’t overwhelm. Those techniques are evident in a flared skirt of forest green that falls to mid-calf at Anthropologie ($140) and in midi dresses adorned with dark prints at Old Navy ($50) and Ann Taylor ($159).
Utility: The pandemic reminded us that clothes need to function, not just look good. Retailers across the spectrum have responded with modern interpretations of utilitarian favorites. At Talbots, the utility jacket makes its return in a bold shade of citron ($149), while Anthropologie delivers its version in a mossy weathered twill with frayed hemline ($148). Banana Republic plays the vintage card, tapping into its utilitarian roots with the essential cargo jacket ($149) and tapered cargo pants ($120) that provide extra storage space.
The “It” Silhouette: The shirtdress is everywhere, made essential by its comfort, variety and versatility. There’s knee-length or maxi. Silky charmeuse ($259 at Banana Republic) or soft corduroy ($89 at Loft). Belted or tiered. Whichever you prefer, the shirtdress provides optimum options for layering. Its ability to go over a mock turtleneck or under a duster-length cardigan establishes this silhouette as a wardrobe building block for the days ahead.
Brights: With names like Blue Buzz and Go Bananas, this season’s burst of brights reminds us these are not the drab wear-whatever days of Winter 2020. Brands across every price point have picked up on this trend, with high-end Lafayette 148 New York offering wide-leg pants in Ultra Marine ($598), Talbots delivering a quilted outerwear jacket in Goldfinch ($179) and Gap providing essential joggers in Pink Raspberry ($46). You can go all in from top to toe or add a single bold piece to an otherwise neutral outfit. Either approach shows you’re on-trend and paying attention to the fashion currents of Winter 2021.