Today’s circumstances are leading us to seek out a sense of security that we are missing at the moment. This comfort and refuge is manifesting itself in multiple ways in our everyday lives, from the activities we partake in, to the products we choose. From an apparel perspective, this mindset is impacting how we are investing in our wardrobes today, and how we will do so moving forward.

The key to apparel’s success is versatility plus comfort, and the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. In analyzing sales trends over the last several months, it is evident that we need to investigate why comfort and active apparel is so important in today’s environment, and its potential down the road.

A New Movement

The comfort movement is being driven by four key themes: work-from-home (WFH) routines, an emphasis on stress relief, health and wellness efforts, and an overall casualization shift which has been taking shape for a number of years. Gone are the days of stiff, uncomfortable fashion; today we say hello to comfort power categories. New terms like “workleisure” are not to be confused with sleepwear or gym attire, nor is it synonymous with “traditional career wear.” Rather, it is a trend towards a lot of expandable waistbands and stretch to help us cope with our new WFH lifestyles.

Higher Wardrobe Investments*

Activewear buyers are currently spending 11% more per purchase compared to non-activewear buyers, pointing to a higher investment in wardrobes for this consumer. These buyers also spent more on both men’s and women’s activewear in 2020 compared to the prior year, while less has been spent on non-active apparel.

Ageless Trends**

The shift to comfort is growing across ages, with the biggest return on investment coming from a younger consumer. This indicates the importance of understanding what styles and features resonate most with your target consumer.

It’s Time to Innovate

Comfort and active category growth alone is not recouping the magnitude of losses coming from the other apparel categories. It is important to plan accordingly to offer the right mix of comfort and active, as well as to determine what elements of comfort can be infused across all apparel categories to grow your business.

Despite all the unknowns around us, I can say with certainty that the comfort movement will continue!  Consumers have become accustomed to casual dressing since even before the pandemic, and we have been talking a lot about athleisure’s growing popularity for quite some time. Given the culmination of all these factors, I anticipate this casualization shift to remain in place even post-pandemic. What will change is how this behavior evolves and begins to take shape on the broader apparel scale. That is why I expect a blurring of the lines for product offerings and attributes, as all eyes will be watching these comfort-driven categories to see what traits can be infused into other areas of the apparel industry.

*Source: The NPD Group/ NPD Checkout, January-September 2020
**Source: The NPD Group/ U.S. Consumer Tracking Service, January-September 2020