U.S. Consumers Find Comfort in Apparel and Footwear in 2020, as “Wear to Work” Fashion is Redefined, According to NPD

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Tailored clothing, dresses, and dress shoes, which were already losing share to more comfort-oriented attire pre-pandemic, were hit particularly hard in 2020.

The circumstances surrounding 2020 accelerated the comfort movement that was already underway within the U.S. fashion apparel and footwear markets. While total apparel sales declined -19% in 2020, comfy cozy categories such as sweatpants (+17%), sleepwear (+6%), and sports bras (+10%) grew during a challenging period for the industry*, according to The NPD Group. Fashion footwear sales including heels, sandals, and boots told a similar story; while overall sales declined -27% for the year, slippers (+21%)* and clogs (+33%)** were areas of growth.

The Work Wardrobe Takes on New Meaning
Since March 2020, more time has been spent working and schooling from home while social gatherings, dining out, and travelling have largely been put on pause. Coinciding with this shift, tailored clothing, dresses, and dress shoes, which were already losing share to more comfort-oriented attire pre-pandemic, were hit particularly hard in 2020. In footwear, fashion sneaker sales also declined year-over-year, although at a much softer rate than the overall category.

Regardless of whether consumers adopt more permanent work-from-home routines or go back to the workplace, demand for fashion with elements of comfort will stick around for the long term. According to an NPD survey, 70% of consumers reported that once they can return to work and other activities, they plan to dress just as or more casually than they did prior to the pandemic.*** In December 2020, the comfort/active apparel categories, along with basics, captured a larger share of apparel dollars for clothing intended for work compared to 2019, growing by 4 share points.* The year also saw a transition away from traditional items such as blazers and into hybrid alternatives like coatigans. In footwear, NPD’s Future of Footwear report forecasts that in 2021 the fashion category will recuperate, though it will regain less than half of the volume it lost in 2020.

“Is there still such a thing as house clothes in this time of COVID-19? Our wardrobes for different occasions have essentially blurred into one, and today’s consumers are purchasing outfits that are interchangeable and versatile for various needs. Once consumers do return to pre-pandemic routines and activities, the demand will be even higher for hybrid clothing intertwining dress and comfort,” said Maria Rugolo, NPD’s apparel industry analyst. “With that, comfort and active apparel’s growth is still not enough to offset losses stemming from the other apparel categories. It is necessary for brands to maintain their heritage, but also determine what elements of comfort to infuse in their products.”

“Being at home has become a lifestyle in itself – for many, the center of all that we do both personally and professionally. Brands have an opportunity to capitalize on the more casual, comfort-focused features that consumers have become accustomed to wearing inside of the home and adapt for use outside of the home,” said Beth Goldstein, NPD’s fashion footwear and accessories analyst. “Fashion footwear will see improvement once consumers start venturing out again. Pent-up demand will drive a short-term boost, but the industry needs to be prepared for a long-term shift in consumer preferences and innovate accordingly.”

*Source: The NPD Group/ Consumer Tracking Service, January-December 2020
**Source: The NPD Group/ Retail Tracking Service, January-December 2020
***Source: The NPD Group/ September 2020 Omnibus

For NPD’s 2021 outlook for the fashion apparel, footwear, and accessories markets, read the latest from Maria Rugolo, Finding Comfort in 2021, and Beth Goldstein, Fashion Footwear & Accessories in 2021: The More Things Change, the More they Stay the Same.

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MARISSA GUYDUY
The NPD Group
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