Like any good movie, men’s fashion in 2020 started with some clues for how events would unfurl. Seemingly, self-expression played a leading role, starring alongside gender fluidity and youthful verve. Tailoring, denim, and leather were the salient plot points. Then, along comes a pandemic shaped obstacle that brings the world to a standstill. What rises to the challenge? Tracksuits, sweatpants, hoodies, pyjamas, slippers.
When workplaces shut abruptly in March, the home office was the new runway for many men who swapped suits or business casual for reliable, uncomplicated clothes. Any degree of formality or fastidiousness in our wardrobes was met with resounding doubt. Not only plans or movements, but your outfits became subject to the novel coronavirus. Your three-piece suit is a three-piece suit of a different kind. It might be a sweater, a t-shirt, and track pants. What use are formal trousers while you enter a Zoom conference from the kitchen table?
The thrill or comfort we expected from our clothes increased. Tekla, a Danish sleepwear and bedding brand founded by Charlie Hedin, preempted this. Alongside luscious bedding and blankets, the brand lavished its customers with luxury sleepwear. Read: fancy pyjamas. The flannel pyjamas come in supple organic cotton and a variety of colourways, providing shelter from the unknown lives we now lead. They are functional, slightly oversized but straightforward nonetheless.
American designer Jerry Lorenzo considered similar notions of style-conscious insouciance. His label, Fear of God, turned out its seventh collection this year consisting of “easy elegance” — an intentional mix of hoodies and sweatpants alongside tailored jackets and coats, smattering of all-American denim (though the collection is handmade in Italy) that embodied the purgatorial world we inhabit: the clothes we wear must be constructed out of effortlessness and dexterity. From cashmere knitwear to versatile sweats and wool tailoring, the collection has a softness, a balm to the times.
“For me loungewear is not a real ‘fashion’ item — the focus on comfort makes it more functional than that and therefore more constant as it fills a need,” said Olivia Francis, founder of British underwear and loungewear brand Hamilton and Hare, which experienced significant growth throughout the pandemic.
“It’s also much less about what it looks like and much more about how it makes you feel when you wear it,” she said. The label values luxury pyjamas, sweats, and underwear the way other brands treat tailoring or jackets.
“I think once you’ve worn something really unbelievably comfortable it’s going to be very hard to go back. So as long as it looks presentable and stylish you’ll just want to wear it all the time.”
Francis found a sudden appetite for loungewear and sleepwear self-explanatory. Like underwear, she explains, it has long been considered an afterthought, a non-essential aspect of your wardrobe. In light of mandated quarantines, Francis said it forced people to “think about what they want to wear at home to be comfortable and feel good and not be embarrassed to answer the door either”.
Charlie Hedin, founder of Tekla, concurs that loungewear is not just a clothing choice, but it acts as emotional reassurance.“People want to surround themselves with different feelings, emotions, something you want to escape in, to feel content. Honestly, it all comes down to comfort and functionality.”
Moreover, online retailers have still noticed an uptick in some other categories. During the summer, as lockdowns eased, some retailers noticed an uptick in formal suiting sales. At some women’s fashion retailers, high heels still performed well sales-wise, luxury watches too. Evidently, shoppers had not placed all their eggs in the loungewear basket though it remains to stay.
“Life has changed and, in many ways, and may never return to what it was before, so I think people’s dressing habits will continue to reflect this. Many people will not go back to the office full time and will continue to dress more casually while at home,” said Lee Goldup, a menswear buyer at Browns in London.
However, the numbers speak for themselves. Despite having to close the doors of their Marylebone store and wholesale order cancellations, Hamilton and Hare’s online business mushroomed during the lockdown period with site traffic up by 200% year-on-year and revenue up 104% year-on-year. Even after the first lockdown had lifted, e-commerce performance increased by 129% year-on-year.
Tekla has noticed a general increase in leisure and homeware categories though, according to the brand, it is too early for them to measure the success as the sleepwear line only launched in the last few months.
As more and more people turn to fashion for comfort as well as function, relaxed clothing becomes a hallmark of the conversation. “With fewer people dressing up for the office, they are instead looking for versatile pieces that balance looking appropriate for a Zoom meeting and is also functional for a walk around the block,” said Goldup, who highlights Sunspel and Tekla as brands to note, and Tom Ford and Z Zegna for more luxurious finds.
Francis said: “In terms of cost-per-wear, a good pair of sweatpants outranks a formal suit 10 to 1.”
On the high street front, H&M and COS have options while sports giants like Nike and Adidas are default options for failsafe finds.
Hedin is convinced that the way we treat getting dressed at home has some longevity: “Without busy social schedules, people have found a new appreciation for the clothes we wear when we’re at home.”
“We start realising the essential roles of things we surround each other with at home and their emotional value. I think this feeling will last beyond the pandemic.”