Fashion is in a slump, but there are saviours at hand

Amid rise of hibernation ‘hatewear’, retailers need to tap into every new trend possible

Coming to a retail site near you... Lady Gaga wears an eye-catching dove brooch as she sings at Joe Biden’s inauguration  in Washington, DC, on Wednesday. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/AFP

Coming to a retail site near you... Lady Gaga wears an eye-catching dove brooch as she sings at Joe Biden’s inauguration in Washington, DC, on Wednesday. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/AFP

 

For beleaguered clothing retailers, the repeated closure of their shops isn't the only seam in their business unravelling in the pandemic. Another is the inescapable fact that people who aren’t going to social events, work or indeed anywhere at all simply don’t need the same volume of clothes they did before, prompting a sector-wide sales slump.

The style media has been busy coining new terms for our wardrobe choices. “Sadwear” (courtesy of Esquire) describes comfortable clothes that have the potential to cheer us up – this is effectively an extension of athleisure’s “kitchen disco” twist that saw fashion brands flood their websites with mildly glitzed-up tracksuit separates.

“Hatewear” (copyright the New York Times) is sadwear’s more downbeat cousin, referring to clothes that do nothing for our moods whatsoever but are nevertheless in constant lockdown rotation – it suggests that if this fashion season was an item of clothing, it would be a faded, bobbling pair of jogging bottoms too dismal to actually wear while running. Hatewear offers no new revenue stream.

Although several notable names have recently collapsed, not every retailer is beset with total gloom. Next says that more than half of its expected physical sales migrated online in November and it expects the same to happen in this period, too. The online-only Asos has also being doing okay, in part because it was able to mop up sales “lost” by physical stores and in part because customers have been making fewer margin-hurting returns. The phenomenon of people buying multiple dresses to try on for a big night out – and then sending them back when they don’t quite work – has gone the way of big night outs.

Athleisure pivoting

Some brands were heavily into workout gear and loungewear before Covid-19 sent us into hibernation, while others have pivoted with varying degrees of success. Others still have remained unwisely wedded to an “out-out” occasion-wear vibe, imploring customers to “stay in, dress up” without even bowing to demand for stretchy fabrics or elasticated waists.

As Lockdown 3.0 bores on, top-half, Zoom-friendly items look the best bets. Luckily, inspiration is never far away. Expect home pages to soon be emblazoned with homages to Lady Gaga’s hypnotic inauguration brooch. After all, if retailers can’t make money out of a giant gold dove carrying an olive branch, then there really is no hope.

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