In 2016, Australian podcaster Maxine Tuyau broke her toe. The first thing she did was buy her first pair of trainers. Around the same time, she started searching for the perfect grey tracksuit, one that epitomised casual chic, but found nothing. “I know loungewear has been on the rise for a couple of years, but that celebrity look was still unattainable and not accessible – it is now,” she says in November 2020. The Beauty Is Political host has bought three different pairs of grey sweats this year alone.
As a direct result of the pandemic, sweatpants, hoodies and leggings replaced the structured blazers, slick trenches, puff sleeve blouses and knee high boots that were set to reign in 2020. Shoppers have invested their money accordingly. In April, sales of pyjamas online surged 143 percent compared with March, according to data from Adobe Analytics. But slouching around all day in the same clothes we went to bed in lost its allure fast – not to mention unwise, given the barrage of experts and sites telling us that our mental health and productivity could improve if we just got dressed.
Somewhere between pyjamas and athleisure, but not quite business-casual, loungewear is the in-between state of dress for the strange purgatorial existence most of us now lead. And we’ve gone willingly. Who hasn’t been pleased to eschew the oppressive constructions of “outside clothes” (see: bras, jeans and blazers) for something that looks as good on a Zoom meeting as it feels while watching seven consecutive hours of TV?
“The way I get dressed has definitely changed due to the pandemic,” Robyn Mowatt, a writer based in Brooklyn tells me. Previously the associate editor of Hypebae, Robyn is no stranger to the joys of a fashionable fit. “Before lockdown and quarantine, I got a bit dressed up for work because I usually had somewhere to go afterwards. Now, I throw on a comfortable t-shirt and sweatpants to work. I only wear a nice sweater, cute dress or top if I'm conducting an interview live on Instagram or through Zoom.”
Manhattan-based trend forecaster and creative consultant, Kendall Becker calls this keyboard-up dressing. “If you’re not familiar with the term, it refers to looking presentable up top with an elevated blouse, sweater and jewellery while keeping it casual on the bottom.” Think the New Yorker’s recent viral cover by Adrian Tomine.
Fast fashion was able to adapt to this trend within days of March’s lockdown thanks to its nimbleness in the supply chain, providing affordable options, styles, and colour-ways to a population increasingly less inclined to spend frivolously. In May, a spokesperson from British fashion retailer ASOS revealed to AP News that sales of tracksuits were up 200 percent compared to the same time last year. In a recent press release seen by VICE UK, the online retailer revealed it sold 188,000 pairs of its 4505 Icon leggings during the initial lockdown. The ASOS streetwear brand COLLUSION was particularly popular – it was searched for over 7.1 million times on the website, and sold over 1.5 million t-shirts and 760,000 pairs of tracksuits. ASOS Marketplace, which allows vendors and independent boutiques to sell vintage clothing, also experienced a boost in sales of joggers between April and July, which were up 156 percent, with tracksuits up by 83 percent.
“It’s no secret that the unemployment rate was – and still is – extremely frightening,” Becker explains. But fast fashion allowed consumers “to find home-ready pieces at a great price; not to mention, the urge to splurge on a piece no one will really see isn’t particularly motivating”.
For years, “loungewear” felt like a niche concept that belonged to the Goop types of the world; thin WASP-y white women who did yoga at 6AM, turmeric lattes at 8A and needed something to slip into to break the monotony of puffer vests and Lululemon. But fast fashion has levelled the playing field, challenging mid-range and luxury brands to bring something new to the table.
Kim Kardashian’s latest, and perhaps most successful venture into shapewear, SKIMS, pivoted to “luxe loungewear” this year. More recently the brand doubled down with its Velour collection, a ploy to tug at the heart-strings of millennials who love Paris Hilton and Juicy Couture tracksuits. She’s even taken a note out of her husband’s playbook and released a series of furry slides, in — you guessed it — nude and neutral shades. SKIMS offered proximity to luxury with high street prices.
But what’s been particularly unique about this trend is that its dominated dramatically across fast fashion right up to high-end fashion. “It’s been incredibly interesting to see designers and even evening wear dip their toe into this market,” Becker tells me. “I think this idea of chicer and higher quality loungewear isn’t going anywhere... a great cashmere jogger or well-done relaxed trouser is a new staple and it’s mid and high-end fashion that’s going to execute this best.”
For decades, being taken seriously meant donning a pencil skirt or three-piece suit. Google “what should I wear to a job interview” for a trip down memory lane and explore the tenets of smart business casual like it’s 2019. In many ways, the accelerated proliferation of loungewear has democratised casual dressing, hopefully setting a trend that will dismantle racial and socio-economic prejudice attached to sweatpants and hoodies.
For Black journalist Brooklyn White-Grier, loungewear is her preferred style of dress. “I’ve always prioritised comfort, that’s just who I am,” the Texan Editor of Essence Girl United, the magazine’s Gen Z vertical, tells me. This leads her to believe that comfy clothing is no passing trend, but rather a moment of awakening. “I’ve seen tons of partnerships between young Black women and companies that make loungewear. I enjoy that trend as much as the actual fashion because I know money is going into their pocket.” There are now more Black-owned loungewear brands than ever before, from London-based Ace & Prince, and Jamaican-British brand Martine Rose to Lagos-via-London’s Mowalola.
So are we fated to wear Juicy tracksuits and luxe loungewear through 2021 and beyond? “I think it’ll be tough to convince people to return to stuffy office wear,” Becker tells me when I ask her thoughts on the future of fashion. “Even over the last decade, workplaces and society, in general, have started adapting to a more casual approach to dressing.”
Alongside the booming WFH-wear industry, broader fashion trends in 2021 will become “more extreme” as people kick back against the monotony of 2020 dressing. Outrageous silhouettes, flagrantly fun styles and statement pieces are set to become the focus of fashion, but loungewear isn’t going anywhere. “Once you get a taste of comfort,” Becker says, “it’s pretty hard to go back.”