What's next in fashion after a year of sweatsuits? Trend forecasters share their predictions

Stylus, Roseanna Roberts, WGSN, @trucnguyen

After more than a year of sweatsuits, loungewear and decidedly more relaxed wardrobe choices, what fashion may look like this spring and beyond is a bit of a mystery. 

As we emerge from what has been, for many, a very long and monotonous winter at home, will our preference for comfortable, stretchy clothes continue unabated? Or will we be more than ready to dress up again and to stock up on cheery colours and statement-making combinations in anticipation of future date nights and celebrations? According to fashion seers, the answer may involve a little bit of both scenarios, different as they may seem.  

To help you look ahead for a summer like no other, we reached out to three leading trend forecasters — Saisangeeth Daswani, head of advisory, fashion, beauty & APAC at Stylus; Roseanna Roberts, a trend and colour forecaster; and Francesca Muston, vice president, fashion, at WGSN. They shared their insights on how the pandemic has impacted fashion, and their predictions for where the psychology of dressing is about to take us next. Here's what they've observed so far, and the trends, colours and even approaches to style that they're foreseeing will be influential in the months and seasons ahead. 

Don't expect a swift or clear aesthetic break 

Daswani predicts that the changes of the past year will leave a lasting impact on the way that we dress. “If we look at major events, whether it's pandemics or wars or recessions, they've essentially always changed the way we've dressed. And I think COVID-19 will have a really similar, substantial effect across the board and across all ages.” 

2021 may well be a fragmented year for fashion and trends. “There's really going to be different paths, and the way people approach the recovery is going to be very individual,” says Roberts. “Some people may not even feel comfortable leaving their homes yet … [while other people] that have an eye to fashion and get excited by fashion are really going to want to dig into it.”

Comfort and ease of movement will remain priorities

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, streetwear and athleisure were major fashion influences and people were dressing down more, embracing the joy-of-missing-out and choosing online socialization, says Daswani. “A lot of that really came from this desire for comfort.” Looking forward, she doesn't expect that approach to change too much.

“The desire for casual and comfort[able] is really what I think will continue post-pandemic,” she says. “Even if you're dressing up, the styles will be a little bit more relaxed, silhouettes will be a little bit less rigid … [and] look a little bit more fluid.”

“The pandemic has changed our lifestyles in ways which will endure long after it's safe to open up society again,” suggests Muston. “These lifestyle changes have already affected how we dress; and as the behaviours stick, so too will the parts of our wardrobes given to comfort.” She predicts that even when things open up more, we'll continue to gravitate toward loungewear, athleticwear and performance gear made for outdoor activities, because activities like exercise and nature walks will likely continue to be significant in our lives. 

Consumers will look for: flexibility, versatility, sustainability and innovation — even for office wear 

With consumers being more careful about how they're spending, Daswani thinks that functional and seasonless designs will take centre stage. “Whatever item [consumers] choose to invest in, they want to make sure that it works across multiple activities or disciplines … [and] they don't want to be confined to a specific season as much anymore.” Daswani forecasts that layering will be more important than ever this year, and that people will embrace transitional dressing and prioritize versatility.

“There's definitely a big chunk of us that actually won't even return to the office in the same sense,” she says, “and I think that for those people, those ideas around being able to blur the lines between your home wear and workwear will continue. And if they're continuing on Zoom, the focus on tops will really be key.” She predicts that dress codes will become more flexible in many offices, and even workwear essentials like tailored pants may feature a looser fit and stretchier, softer fabrics.  

Both Daswani and Roberts predict that going forward sustainability — in terms of design, materials and packaging — will become even more important as a purchasing criteria for fashion.

Daswani is also enthusiastic about the “innovation happening in material” and “huge amount of technological advances” we're seeing in fashion right now, from temperature-regulating fabrics to sustainable dyes. “I think that kind of stuff really excites me because that's the thing that I think people will really be willing to pay money for,” she says. “And those are the types of items that will really have longevity in people's closets.” Consumers may be buying fewer clothes these days, but some are also more willing to spend money on innovative designs with value-added features.  

For some, this will be a moment of creative expression 

“Of course, when society opens up there will doubtless be a flurry of shopping for dresses as we savour every opportunity to celebrate,” notes Muston. 

Roberts predicts that for some fashion will again become more individual and expressive. “We've been living in a time that has been a lot more homogenous, social media has really taken a bit of the creativity out of fashion,” she says. “My hope is that as we re-enter society and socialize, people are really going to put their own stamp on how they're expressing themselves, because we've been so contained.” 

This could mean taking more care with outfits, embracing bold colours, experimenting with different silhouettes, and generally “bringing an artistic or creative sensibility” to how one approaches fashion and beauty, says Roberts. “I think we'll see a return to men perhaps wanting to get a little bit more dressed up, we might even see the suit returning to some working environments, and definitely more social gatherings where people are going to want to put their Sunday best on.”

Expect to see vibrant colours and playful fashion

“I absolutely think bold colours, bright colours are going to be really big this year,” says Roberts. “I think people are just ready to have fun.” She foresees a prevalence of “happy and joyful” hues like pink, orange and yellow “that make us feel an actual sense of optimism,” warm tones, and calming colours like sky blues “that make us feel really relaxed and balanced.” 

Similarly, Roberts expects clothes that offer a playful, carefree sensibility will continue to resonate with consumers this spring and summer, just as “cottagecore” fashion provided “a sense of escape and also a connection to a time that was much more simple” when we were all stuck at home. This playfulness could translate into styles with voluminous silhouettes, blouson sleeves, dropped waists and a relaxed silhouette, for example. “[It's] fashion that is also flexible and adaptable so that you can live in it in your home, and then you can go out in the world and still feel comfortable and confident that you look good,” says Roberts. 

Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.

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