Will tracksuits and loungewear continue to dominate our spending after lockdown? Early data from countries where restrictions have lifted show consumers are still prioritising easy-to-wear items, a habit that may be hard to shift once restrictions ease.
Retail data platform StyleSage, which tracks inventory levels at fashion stores worldwide, found that shorts, jumpsuits and handbags are the most frequently sold-out items in the past two weeks in countries where restrictions were easing, including New Zealand, Australia and Denmark. Intimates and slippers were also among items most frequently sold out, indicating that people are not yet abandoning their prioritisation of at-home comforts.
After months of customers favouring products like pyjamas and athleisure, recovery for the apparel sector depends on consumers’ willingness to buy a wider variety of clothing. Seasonal shift and the relaxing of many stay-at-home orders are ushering such a change, a hopeful sign for the apparel industry. Yet some categories, like tailored clothing, are slow to bounce back.
Fashion sales are still declining, but there is some evidence that they are no longer worsening even in the US, the country with the highest daily cases and deaths due to the pandemic. The NPD Group reported US apparel sales fell 35 per cent in the last week of April, but that the scale of the year-on-year declines had halved over the course of the crisis.
Maria Rugolo, NPD Group apparel industry analyst, says the first weeks of the crisis were defined by consumers in the US addressing their immediate needs, buying home appliances and other items to support working at home. “So something had to initially give, but now we’re starting to see more spend back into the apparel category as the world is really settling into this new reality.”
Shift in demand as lockdowns lift
“We are witnessing the start of a notable demand shift,” says Tom Simpson, fashion director at The Iconic, a Global Fashion Group company and one of the leading multi-brand retailers in Australia, which is now entering winter. The brand is seeing a return to growth in categories like denim, dresses and shirts, as well as strong demand for seasonal items like knitwear, boots and outerwear, he says.
“The data expresses what I believe are consumers’ conflicting feelings. They want to go out but also know home is probably the safest place, so their shopping behaviour reflects this dichotomy,” says Elizabeth Shobert, VP of marketing and digital strategy at StyleSage.
While many European countries still have some restrictions over meeting indoors, citizens in the UK, France, Italy and elsewhere are now permitted to spend more time socialising outside. Trends are not totally uniform across these geographies. Data from global fashion search platform Lyst shows that denim was the most popular category in Germany in April, while other European countries prioritised more summery choices.
“At Zalando, we’ve seen that typical summer season products, such as summer dresses, shorts, sandals and beachwear are trending stronger in the last few weeks,” says Sara Diez, vice president of womenswear at the European e-commerce retailer. “Furthermore, we still see… a high demand for beauty products, which very clearly grew in popularity during the weeks of lockdown in Europe.”
Formalwear has proven slow to bounce back. The decline in tailored clothing has been consistent since the start of the crisis, Rugolo says. In addition to a rise in athleisure, basic categories like sleepwear and underwear have been increasing in its place as well as more seasonal items like shorts and swimwear.
These casual and hyperseasonal categories only make up a small portion of luxury assortments. A joint report by Pitti Immagine, Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana and McKinsey last week forecast a decline of between 20 and 40 per cent in luxury apparel sales over the course of 2020.
The staying power of comfortable clothing
There is some hope that occasionwear will make a recovery once restrictions ease. MatchesFashion.com has seen a 44 per cent increase in evening gown sales month-on-month over May, suggesting that socialising — or at least planning to do so — is increasingly top of mind. Occasion dresses are currently among the most popular items in Norway, Denmark and Australia, while cocktail dresses are doing well in Greece.
The fastest-growing products, still, are ones that are easy to wear like long day dresses, sales for which have more than doubled since last month, and shorts, sales of which have increased by 250 per cent year-on-year over April and May. Isabel Marant and Valentino are among the most popular brands for shorts, per MatchesFashion.com. In footwear, sandals sales are up 55 per cent year-on-year.
Celenie Seidel, senior womenswear editor at Farfetch, says she is hopeful that this increased interest was a sign that people are getting excited about fashion again.
“Although we’re still a long way from returning to the old normal we once knew, seeing lockdown conditions start to ease slightly in various countries gives us a little glimmer of hope. I believe that now is the time where people are starting to enjoy clothes again, along with the re-excitement of the idea of getting dressed up,” she says. Both Farfetch and MatchesFashion.com have also seen rising interest in their homeware selections, with the latter reporting 160 per cent year-on-year increases in sales in the category over April and May.
The overarching question for retailers is whether these shifts in purchasing behaviour will lead to any longer-term changes in what consumers want to wear going forward. Rugalo says that the move from formalwear to more comfortable attire had been happening in the US for a while and that the expectation from consumers returning to work after the pandemic eases may well be that the clothes they wear will feel less restrictive.
“Comfort, but yet looking presentable for work. Those are the categories that we’re going to see a spike in and growth in,” she says.
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