It all started at the height of the coronavirus pandemic when stay-at-home orders were put in place across the globe. When consumers found themselves confined to their personal spaces twenty-four hours a day, the need for true comfort through self-care products such as face masks and serums, at-home-fitness routines and athleisure apparel rose. But of all categories to shine through the pandemic, the athleisure category witnessed a tremendous surge in demand and quite honestly, it never stopped being popular.
But fashion brands are itching for consumers to move on.
That said, fashion brands have gone ahead and have implemented a new strategy to slowly ease their customers back into buying more fitted pieces. After all, consumers can only own so many pieces of sweatpants.
Easing back into denim (with modifications…of course)
During the height of the pandemic, denim sales took a hard hit as constricting fabrics were deemed a definite no-no, while stay-at-home orders were put in place.
Thus, fashion labels have looked to revive the denim category with some key modifications, such as elastic waistbands. According to the Edited, a retail analytics firm, the number of new denim styles featuring elastic waistbands jumped 35 percent just between September and October.
But if an elastic waistband just doesn’t cut it for customers’ taste, making the denim fabric just flat out more comfortable might be a better alternative. That is an approach online fast-fashion retailer SHEIN took, increasing its selection of stretchier denim by 236 percent between February and June this year.
The move to flexible waistband offers shoppers more guarantee that their body type and silhouette will fit without compromising the more put-together look they are after.
Brands like Free People, 7 For All Mankind and Joe’s have also followed suit and have released their own flexible waist pants variations.
The idea of introducing comfortable features into fashion staples isn’t anything new, however. Before the pandemic, brands like Margaret Howell had already introduced more relaxed cuts and jeans featuring elastic waistbands.
Some brands even opted to offer both features in one, featuring both the drawstring along the elasticized waist. (A truly mind-blowing… for sure.)
But is there a demand behind the new wave of denim/sweatpant?
As a new wave of coronavirus cases strike, countries such as France and Germany and various cities across the U.S. are reinstating lockdowns. Whether denim will resonate among consumers in this market remains questionable.
This is because if stay-at-home orders are enforced on a greater scale, many could resort back to quarantine time habits where ultimate comfort is deemed an absolute must, pushing leveled up sweatpants towards the bottom of consumers’ priority lists. But if consumers start to head outdoors again, the demand for the new wave of denim/sweatpants styles could surge.
But as of right now, consumers’ preferences are continuing to shift, with some consumers continuing to shop for loungewear, whereas a small but relatively significant share shopping for more form-fitting clothes.
A McKinsey & Company study found that 54 percent of shoppers, up from 32 percent from April, saw functionality and comfort as two critical components in their buying decision process when it came to purchasing clothing. Fashion and style remained key contributing factors for only 28 percent of shoppers, a significant drop from before the spread of the pandemic.
But as consumers adapt to the “new normal” brought upon by the coronavirus pandemic, they are starting to add more oomph to their loungewear. Brands, in response, are starting to pair their comfort offerings with more structured, high-end pieces. For example, activewear line Bandier and A.L.C. collaborated to launch snake print leggings along with a blazer, made from a technical fabric, from the collection.
But while pairing comfort and high-end is on-trend at the moment, a fashion brands’ ability to marry drawstrings and apparel without having it scream “sweatpants” is critical. That is a balance that Everlane has attempted to strike with “The Dream Pant,” which features an elastic pull-on waist and feels very much like a sweatpant but still offers a much-tailored look. So, when opting to pair the pant with a sweater or blazer, the look is effortless and chic enough for consumers to wear to work if needed.
The fit is critical
While some consumers may be getting tired of wearing sweats on the daily, the pivot back over to true denim just isn’t in the foreseeable future.
And with potential future lockdowns on the horizon and with current safety precautions already in place, many retailers have gone ahead and closed their in-store fitting rooms and have done so since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To further elaborate, while leggings and sweats traditionally come in sizes such as small, medium, or large, the process of choosing the right size is fairly straightforward for consumers. Denim, on the other hand, is typically sold in a wide range of fits and may leave many reluctant to purchase without trying it on first.
That said, introducing elements such as stretchy waistbands and/or stretchy fabrics to more formal pieces, essentially bridges the gap between the best of both worlds.
So, what does fashion look like after the sweatpant?
Offering unique iterations on staple pieces will be key for brands during this time as demand for denim continues to be up in the air. During this time, some consumers are looking for ways to level-up their sweatpants game, whether it be through pieces that look more formal but offer comfort or simply taking their traditional sweatpants and layering them up with higher-end pieces. On the other hand, others are looking to hold onto their traditional sweatpants for as long as COVID-19 is a thing.