Fashion in 2021: From comfort to inclusion to the digital revolution

·4-min read
Changes have been underway in the fashion industry in 2021.

After months at a virtual standstill, the fashion industry has totally reinvented itself in 2021, rising to meet the new challenges highlighted by the pandemic. Environmental responsibility, digital technology, and inclusion were key themes in this year rich in change, both in terms of consumption patterns and in the way brands have shifted to respond to shoppers' new preoccupations.

Every year there's talk of revolution and reinvention in the fashion industry, but there will definitely be a before pandemic and after pandemic. Shaken by the closure of bricks-and-mortar stores and, in some cases, by production grinding to a halt, the fashion industry has fought back to face up to new challenges throughout this pivotal year, whether in terms of sustainability, the move to digital or inclusion, or in terms of trends themselves, with comfort and casual having replaced the sophistication of yesteryear -- well, two years ago.

Digital transformation and eco-conscious shopping

Sustainability and the move to digital are clearly two fields the fashion industry has chosen to embrace, multiplying initiatives throughout the year. For the former, this has resulted in collections featuring more eco-responsible, and sometimes completely innovative , materials, made using mushrooms, sugar cane, apples and grapes, or biomaterials created from greenhouse gases. It has also brought about alternative modes of consumption, such as second-hand shopping, clothing rental or deposit schemes, and previously little-used processes such as upcycling. These initiatives are in line with the times and with consumers' expectations. In its annual report, the global search platform Lyst* reports a definite craze for eco-conscious shopping, with a 178% increase in searches for vegan leather goods, for example.

Several celebrities have also been championing a more responsible approach to fashion in 2021 -- or, rather, from the moment shows, premieres, and other red carpet events resumed. Joaquin Phoenix stood out by choosing to wear the same Stella McCartney suit to all the awards season's red carpet events -- a first that didn't go unnoticed. And, when it comes to vegan fashion, Billie Eilish caused a sensation at the MET gala when she wore an Oscar de la Renta dress reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe. In fact, the young star only agreed to wear the dress on the not exactly small condition that the luxury fashion house adapts to her vegan lifestyle by stopping selling fur.

Among all this, fashion brands have been busy with all things digital. With retail stores closed, they began doubling down on efforts to carve out a place in the online world. And they evidently dived in head first, exploring a host of possibilities in the space of the year, from video games to virtual worlds (isn't metaverse one of the words of the year?) through avatars, cryptocurrencies, and of course the now inevitable NFTs. One of the most talked about collabs was the Balenciaga collection in association with Fortnite. According to Lyst, the number of searches for this partnership jumped 72% just 24 hours after the collaboration was announced, while searches for Balenciaga increased by 49% at the same time. The same is true for Collina Strada's first virtual fashion show, which helped the brand raise its profile considerably and boost visibility (+28% of searches).

Comfort, vibrancy and gender-fluid fashion

Looking more specifically at the clothes in our closets, the year splits into two parts -- the first associated with the lockdowns that ended in the spring, and the second focusing on the removal of restrictions and the gradual return to (almost) normal life. This translated into an explosion of colors, patterns and various other showy embellishments and ornaments -- almost to excess -- but there was also a distinct need not to return to restrictive clothing straight away. Lyst reports a 191% increase in bright, colorful items -- with a focus on pink, yellow, and orange -- and a 545% jump in bold jewelry over the first few months of the year. As for the return to work, fashion eased back in smoothly, with suits and tailoring giving way to light, fluid materials and looser cuts. According to the report, searches for oversized suits rose by 109%, as did searches for wide-leg pants, up 87%.

In the meantime, 2021 also became more inclusive, as stereotypes were further eroded. The previous year ended with Harry Styles posing in a dress on the cover of Vogue magazine, giving rise to -- or rather bringing to the mainstream -- the notion of gender-fluid fashion. Many personalities -- Billie Eilish in the lead -- have also contributed to driving this change, while all year long, various brands served up non-gendered collections. It's a major trend that is expected to continue in 2022, and even beyond, as demand is particularly strong from Gen Z. The latest fashion trend in this vein is none other than men's infatuation with pearl necklaces , leading to an 86% increase in searches for this product category compared to last year.

These major trends ultimately mirror the changes taking place in a society that's constantly evolving, but it remains to be seen whether they will continue beyond the pandemic. For now, at least, it seems that they are well on their way to becoming long-term shifts in the industry.

* Throughout the year, more than 150 million consumers visited the fashion shopping platform Lyst, which analyzed their searches, visits and sales figures to compile its end-of-year report, available here: https://www.lyst.com/year-in-fashion-2021/ .

Christelle Pellissier

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