At the recent European men’s AW20 fashion weeks and trade shows and there was the perennial talk of what’s next. Branded booths full of fur-trimmed arctic parkas and look-at-me colourful chunky trainers didn’t really give an indication of the next big direction in menswear or fashion in general. Talk of tailoring’s recent return and the variations on the duck boot didn’t really satisfy the over aching question of “what’s the next big trend/idea?”.
When you think about the regular, engaged and fashion buying consumer, what’s the overriding trend of the past decade? It’s comfort. While it started with the dreaded term “athleisure” creeping out of the gym and into people’s wardrobes and then exploded into sportswear, in general, people really connected with the laziness of it all and they’ve got used to it. There’s no going back. Items that are easy to put on, easy to wear, easy to take off, morning to evening, are really the driving force of people’s purchasing decisions. Asking people to be uncomfortable again for fashion’s sake is never going to return. Never.
You don’t realise how used to uncomfortable we were until you give yourself a rare reminder of what we used to wear. And compared to our historical forefathers it was certainly nothing in comparison to those days of being trussed up like a turkey. Even a regular pair of cotton denim jeans feels uncomfortable and such-an-effort to put on without any stretch and an un-elasticated waist. The genderless meeting in the middle of sloppy oversized clothes and sports shoes is the perfect example of all this. When was the last time you saw a women hobbling along in uncomfortable high-heels? And good riddance to that too.
Sportswear is currently fulfilling this need, and brands with product outside this genre can no longer wait for the pendulum to swing back to them. They have to get involved. For example, GH Bass, long the custodians of the classic, leather men’s penny loafer has incorporated an Air Max type air bubble sole to their shoes for AW20. Okay, so I know we’ve had shoe/trainer hybrids since the early days of Prada Sport in the 1990s, but this is less about trend and more about getting people to make the leap from trainers back to something resembling a traditional shoe, rather than previously the other way around.
Every major shoe trend of the last few years has been related to a slipper. Every Croc to Ugg to Vans to slider is basically an outdoor slipper. It’s all about comfort. The JOMO/Netflix Generation are having to be enticed with a outdoor sole just to leave the house and even then it has to feel the same as if they were indoors.
There’s also a psychological thing going on here. If something feels or looks like an effort, then it is instantly rejected by the consumer. Certain items, fabrics and styles are associated with discomfort. People want clothes and accessorises then can forget about, aren’t conscious wearing and are instantly comfortable. Long gone are the days of expecting customers to wear or break something in. For example, there were many hiking boots styles on offer for the Autumn/Winter 20 season, but looking all the many laced eyelets and thought of having to wrench your foot in and out, has you reaching for the nearest tent mule no matter how beautifully patinated or light they are.
While this all relates nicely to the current sportswear domination, and the two go hand-in-hand, this idea will resonate and underpin any future fashion styles or trends. Whether it’s preppy or more formal clothes, the underlying trend will be comfort. There are generations of young people who don’t know anything different. Fashion has to be realistic and the future is comfortable. The visuals can change, the looks will morph, but this macro trend should be the starting point for any brand or designer hoping to appeal to the mass market. You only had to look at fitness guru Joe Wicks getting married in his trainers this past summer to see how far this has all infiltrated formal scenarios. The shoe makers of Northamptonshire must have been crying into their Cherry Blossom when they saw that. But, he obviously wanted to be comfortable on his big day and it also reflected his brand and personality.
This idea is an overarching trend in fashion. What started with sports could end anywhere. What’s next in fashion nobody’s really sure, but one thing’s for sure, it ain’t discomfort.