Get out of sweatpants: Spring fashion is changing; bold colours, light fabrics set the pandemic mood – Economic Times

By on April 7, 2021
LISBON/CHICAGO: After a year of nesting in pastel-coloured loungewear, shoppers are opting for styles with floral prints, feel-good slogans and statement jewellery to jazz up working-from-home outfits as optimism makes a comeback in spring collections, designers and retailers told Reuters.

While neutral, comfortable clothing remains more popular than in a normal spring, retailers from Neiman Marcus to Walmart and Macy‘s Inc reported growing sales of bright, optimistic colour, flowy fabrics or dresses for the first time since the start of the pandemic as shoppers prepared for a return to normal life.

“We’re seeing a return to occasion dresses and even bras with wires,” Marie Ivanoff-Smith, fashion director at department store Nordstrom, told Reuters. “As it gets warmer and more people go outside, we thought people would really want to showcase optimism and joy with prints and vibrant colours.”   So far, ditzy floral prints are up 31% in Europe and 16% in the United States from last year, according to Heuritech, a data firm analyzing millions of pictures a day on social media and catwalks.

Colours seen in catwalks for spring and summer 2021 collections were vibrant pinks and bold blues – “an energizing source of inspiration to help carry us through,” the company said in a February report. While vibrant colours and floral motifs are typical of spring styles, the difference this year is that fashion lines also include nude t-shirts and what Walmart’s head of fashion editorial, Alison Hilzer, called “slouchy cardigans.”

British online fashion retailer ASOS said in an email that it noticed in recent weeks its customers were “into feel-good slogans, brighter colours and floral accessories as the weather has started to improve and they start to get ready for the summer ahead.”

“While neutral tones are still prevalent, we’re excited to inject some much-needed optimism into our wardrobes with bright accents. We’re loving yellows and greens for (spring),” an ASOS spokesperson told Reuters in an email.

“Bold colours, draping, and light fabrics created a perfect complement to spring with collections from Dior, Loewe, and Dries van Noten,” said Lana Todorovich, president and chief merchandising officer at luxury retailer Neiman Marcus.

“It’s clear that the trend is also about coming out of this, although it’s still a lot about comfortable garments,” H&M CEO Helena Helmersson told Reuters on Wednesday after the Swedish retailer reported earnings.



Still, planning has never been harder than this year, as designers used to finishing designs months and sometimes years ahead were forced to adjust collections and marketing in line with the fluctuating circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic. 

In general, fashion trend forecasting will look two years out, according to consumer product director at fashion trend analysis company Stylus, Emily Gordon-Smith. But amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, the company advised its clients to play it safe with “seasonless” clothing.

“We tend to plan six months ahead, which is nerve-racking when you think about it,” Nordstrom’s Ivanoff-Smith said.

“How are you feeling in New York? L.A.? Seattle? We realized we needed to cater to all the scenarios,” Ivanoff-Smith said. The Seattle-based department store “eased into the spring season” by starting with casual clothes and then moving into special fashions like jewellery and colourful dresses.

Still, convincing consumers spoiled by comfy clothing seven days a week to go back to heels and suits may not be easy, Gordon-Smith said.

“Once consumers are embedded in a comfort-based wardrobe, it’s a very tough mind-set to shift,” Gordon-Smith said. “It’ll be underpinned by a desire to dress up again, but by our predictions that’s not going to happen on a large-scale until 2022.”


But as the return of spring and progressing vaccination campaigns brought some cheer, Neiman Marcus, Walmart and Macy’s said they have already begun to see people starting to tire of cozy and comfy clothes.

“We’ve begun to see many of our iconic designers show looks and pieces that reflect a return to customers attending special occasions,” said Neiman Marcus’ Todorovich. Brands like The Row, Brunello Cucinelli and Victoria Beckham have embraced “optic whites that symbolize a sense of refresh, rebirth, and a natural reset,” she added.

“The customer mentality is wanting to get out of sweatsuits and sweatshirt pajamas and put on something that makes them feel pretty and excited to go out,” Walmart’s Hilzer said.

At Macy’s, Durand Guion, vice president of the department store’s fashion office, said he is even starting to see a return to formal clothes and wedding gowns as states open up. 

“Weddings can happen again, gatherings can happen again,” he said. “I think a lot of that momentum will just sort of continue as vaccinations take place.”

Wear It & Say It

Anyone who says fashion is not political has not noticed the length of former American president Donald Trump’s red ties or thinks US Vice-President Kamala Harris’ sneakers-with-suits look is happenstance.

From the suffragette white and the keffiyeh as a symbol of Palestinian self-determination to Che’s beret and Time’s Up bracelets, fashion as a political tool has always been about optics, subliminal cues and nuance. But it’s never hidden, in fact it’s all about wearing your ideology on your sleeve. And nowhere is this more evident than in the slogan T-shirt — an incredibly visible vehicle used by people to voice opinions or support movements. Every protest or social movement has produced a talking T-shirt.

Here’s a short history of the tee that talks.

Dewey Did It

Writer Scott Fitzgerald used the word T-shirt possibly for the first time in his 1920 novel ‘This Side of Paradise’. However, it was after World War II that the message potential of a T-shirt was unleashed. In 1948, Republican presidential candidate Thomas Dewey emblazoned T-shirts with “Dew it with Dewey”. He lost to Harry Truman. But the slogan T-shirt won.

In 2018, London’s Fashion and Textile Museum opened an exhibition “T-shirt: CultCulture-Subversion” with 200 iconic T-shirts that changed the status of what was originally an undergarment. In an interview to, curator Dennis Nothdruft said, “[The T-shirt] is a really basic way of telling the world who and what you are… it was a matter of the personal as politicised.”

Slogan Tees, Now!

In India, various protests have given us slogan tees although a lot of it is not organised and is put up on online shops outside of India.

But “No Farmers, No Food, No Future” is a popular slogan as was “Sab Yaad Rakha Jayega” during the CAA-NRC protests. With the easy availability of digital printing, anyone can start a T-shirt campaign.

For instance, comedian Kunal Kamra launched his line of “Wah Modiji Wah” T-shirts in 2018 while “Hindi Theriyathu Poda” (I Don’t Understand Hindi, Get Lost) tees by MP Kanimozhi went viral in 2020 after a CISF personnel at Chennai airport had asked her if she was Indian after she said she did not know Hindi.

The Vivienne Westwood Touch

In the UK, designers Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren used tee shirt as a blank canvas for punk ideology. The UK’s punk movement was rooted in a general social malaise among British youth. Westwood and McLaren’s T-shirts tackled everything from religion to fascism.

By 1973, The New York Times dubbed the T-shirt as “the medium for the message”.

Feminist Slogans

Critics call it the fourth-wave feminism slogans. The Fawcett Society, with Elle UK, took out a T-shirt with the slogan “This is what a Feminist looks Like”, designed mainly for men to wear.

In Spring/Summer 2017, Dior sent out “We Should All Be Feminists” T-shirts on to the ramp, designed by the first female head designer Maria Grazia Churi. The slogan is a reference to Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book of the same name.

In 2018, designer Prabal Gurung made “The Future is Female” line of tees.

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