Is comfort still in vogue? How the pandemic led to the rise of comfort over fashion

woman holding knitted jumpers
There’s no denying it - the Covid-19 pandemic has made its mark on fashion. 2020 and 2021 saw many of us swapping formalwear for ‘business leisure’ and opting for joggers over jeans. But now that most restrictions have been removed in the UK, what is the future of fashion? Is comfort still king or will we see a rebound to dress-to-impress styling? And with the over 50s set to be the fashion industry’s key consumer base by 2040, what does the future hold for this crucial demographic? With London Fashion Week 2022 just around the corner, we make our predictions.

A quiet revolution in wardrobes around the world

Working from home orders combined with limitations on socialising and events could have made the past couple of years a write-off in terms of fashion development. However, in wardrobes around the world, a quiet revolution has been taking place as people make comfort their number one priority. Indeed, a lot of digital ink has been spilled over our love affair with loungewear, the rise of athleisure (casual, comfortable clothes perfect for everyday wear and exercise) and the phenomenon of ‘waist-up’ dressing (dressing with a focus on the top half, as only this will be seen in video calls).

Commercial figures reflected these trends too. According to John Lewis’ Shop Live Look report, sales of loungewear and leggings rose by 1,303% in the 12 months to December 2020. And in early 2021, True Fit’s Fashion Genome (via Direct Commerce), which analyses data from 17,000 brands, confirmed that athleisure orders had leaped up by 84% since the start of the pandemic.

High fashion gets in on the act

Our desire for comfortable, practical and easy to wear clothing even spilled over into traditional tailoring. A variety of Savile Row tailors, usually known for their made-to-measure suits, pivoted to pandemic fashion demands by designing bespoke loungewear and pyjamas for their clients.

In addition, London Fashion Week 2021 demonstrated that our enthusiasm for comfort hasn’t gone unnoticed by the world’s top designers. The virtual catwalk (LFW 2021 was a physical and digital hybrid) included crinkle-covered jumpers, oversized knitwear and easy-wearing sportswear - all with the unique and dramatic embellishments you’d expect from haute couture.

London Fashion Week 2022 and beyond

If you think our whirlwind romance with comfort will come to an abrupt end now that offices have reopened and we can socialise with friends and family again, think again. After almost two years of elasticated waistbands, cosy slippers and garments that let you move freely, why would anyone want to go back to feeling restricted or uncomfortable in their clothes? Indeed, a Style Forecast report for 2022 by Stitch Fix revealed that almost one third of people would prefer to take a 10% pay cut than dress up for work every day. These attitudes are believed to be contributing to the rise of ‘business comfort’ and ‘versatile athleisure’ offerings.

In addition, in the chaos and turmoil of the last couple of years, the importance of self-care, wellness and mindfulness was brought to the forefront of the public’s mind. And these concepts look to be here to stay, with a survey by Champneys in late 2021 revealing that 30% of people invest more time in self-care than they did before the pandemic. We believe that these phenomena go hand in hand with prioritising comfort when dressing. Gone are the days when you had to suffer to be fashionable.

But what about looking good? Has that gone out the window too? While some of us may have neglected our appearance at times during the course of the pandemic, we don’t believe that people have stopped caring about style altogether.

According to The State of Fashion 2022 report by The Business of Fashion and McKinsey, consumers will reboot their wardrobes this year to feed their appetite for newness and keep up with their newfound social freedoms. The report predicts that the intense demand for loungewear and athletic wear will slow down slightly as consumers reallocate their fashion budget to add the likes of formalwear, occasion dresses and high heels back into the mix.

With this in mind, we predict that shoppers will expect a greater balance between comfort and style. While the future may not be ‘Sweatpants Forever’, as a headline by The New York Times in August 2020 suggested, the idea that you have to suffer to be beautiful is also redundant.

The future of over 50s fashion

When looking at the over 50s market in particular, it’s clear that many brands still underestimate the importance of style to this sizable demographic. Research from the International Longevity Centre predicted that spending on fashion and shoes by older people will increase by 60% between 2019 and 2040 and suggested that this market has long been side-lined by the fashion industry in favour of the younger generation. Shoppers in this demographic have criticised the lack of stylish choices that also cater to the specific practical needs of the older generation.

That’s where we come in. Chums’ fashion offering has always walked a fine line between style and comfort, with flattering cuts, colours and designs, value for money materials and practical features such as discreet adjustable waistbands, moisture-wicking fabric and attractive wide-fit shoes. We make the balance between looking good and feeling good a priority.

As we enter the post-lockdown era, it seems the balance between style and comfort has never been more important. We expect London Fashion Week 2022 to showcase the best of both worlds - with comfortable pandemic fashion features reinvigorated in stylish ensembles that will epitomise this unique cultural moment and take us into a future that prizes balance.

When it comes to the over 50s, we are hopeful that more clothing brands will wake up to the fact that this generation shouldn’t have to compromise on style or comfort.

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