Yuzefi handbags are literally designed for a night out on the town. The brand had a rough 2020: small, chain-strapped clutches didn’t pair well with the pandemic.
But in January, even as much of the US and Europe were battling a new wave of Covid-19 cases, founder Naza Yuzefi detected an uptick in demand for its signature bags. The rush was fully on by February, when direct sales were up 83 percent over February 2020. Her best-selling item right now? The small, oval “Baton” bag with a chunky chain strap designed to match a cocktail dress. Last summer, among the most popular was the tote-sized Basket.
After a year where consumers seemed to want nothing but sweatpants and leggings, cocktail dresses and clutches are suddenly back in fashion. High heel styles and bodycon dresses are selling out at a far faster rate than this time last year, according to Edited, a retail analytics firm. It’s not just clubwear, either. Urban Outfitters Inc. chief executive Richard Hayne told investors recently that seven of Anthropologie’s top 10 best-sellers were dresses, compared with perhaps one or two over the course of the pandemic.
The reason tastes are shifting is no mystery: millions of people have received their Covid-19 vaccine, or soon will, and are preparing to return to their pre-pandemic lives, and then some. In America, many of these same consumers will soon receive $1,400 stimulus checks they can put toward updating their wardrobes.
“We’re all dying to go out these days,” Yuzefi said. “We’re all fantasising about Zoom turning into a nightclub or a rave.”
We’re all dying to go out these days. We’re all fantasising about Zoom turning into a nightclub or a rave.
Western retailers already know how this story is going to play out. After China brought its Covid-19 outbreak under control last summer, many retailers, including Hermès and LVMH, saw sales surge, in what came to be known as “revenge” shopping. As the trend takes hold in the US and Europe, brands see a rare opportunity for dramatic growth and reaching new customers.
Some savvy retailers are already using the upcoming ease in lockdowns and growing rate of vaccination as marketing fodder. Ultra-fast fashion brand Misspap, owned by Boohoo Group, for instance, has already added a “21st June Prep” browsing tab to its homepage, referring to the date the UK expects to end its social distancing restrictions. Missguided, a rival, updated its homepage with a “Lockdown Exit Outfits” tab.
British accessories brand Azurina is looking to time new product launches and marketing campaigns around the key end-of-lockdown dates.
This means making its signature multi-functional bags in joyful, bright colours, and posting styling inspiration videos on social media. Posts will include instructions for what to wear to a range of post-lockdown events from dog walks to coffees to evening cocktails, said brand co-founder Charlie West. There are also plans to branch into new categories, including jewellery and apparel, and even monogrammed blankets to serve customers who will be socialising outdoors for the first time in months
“What we’re thinking about is how the practical and logistical elements of the roadmap [out of lockdown] intersect with that desire to have fun again,” said Azurina co-founder Frankie Ratnage. “For us, it’s packaging up: what does outdoor socialising look like, what do you need for that and how can we help.”
It’s packaging up: what does outdoor socialising look like, what do you need for that and how can we help.
Travel will be a major driver for apparel sales this year, said Kristen Gall, retail expert and president at e-commerce shopping app Rakuten Rewards. In China, domestic travel nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels by October, and it’s likely the US will also rebound quickly, Gall said.
Without the opportunity to splurge on trips and dining out this past year, some consumers will have extra cash to spend on vacation attire as travel becomes a possibility again.
“I already booked a ski trip for Christmas this year because I didn’t get to ski at all last year,” she said. “I’ve been trapped inside my house and this is the first thing I want to book, and it can be extravagant ... because many of us have been in a forced savings situation.”
Consumers in some countries may have a while to wait to wear their new looks. Cases are still rising in Italy, which is facing tighter restrictions, while parts of France have recently introduced additional lockdown measures. Europe’s vaccine rollout has been sluggish compared with the programmes in the US and the UK.
The retailer Mango, which counts Spain, Italy and France among its key markets, hasn’t seen any significant changes to transaction volumes or category spending shifts yet. Diego Sebastián, the brand’s head of customer experience and communication, doesn’t expect this to change at least until after the Easter weekend at the start of April.
“We have the feeling that after Easter holidays, with the good weather, with the sun, people will start ‘hope buying’ ... hoping to have a summer to enjoy,” he said. The company isn’t planning to kick off post-pandemic marketing activities until mid to late summer.
We have the feeling that people will start ‘hope buying’ ... hoping to have a summer to enjoy.
Apparel sales may not shoot up as dramatically in the West as they did in Asia, said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. Where China and some other countries instituted strict, nationwide lockdowns, US restrictions have varied state by state.
“In the US, we just won’t see the same resurgence because lockdowns weren’t as stringent,” Saunders said.
And just because party dresses and stilettos are slated to be popular again doesn’t mean the era of sweatpants is over. In places where lockdowns have already been eased, such as Australia, categories like underwear, sleepwear and comfort dressing have continued to sell out, according to Edited analyst Katharine Carter.
“These categories have post-Covid longevity because most consumers still work from home,” she said.
Bloomingdale’s said homeware and lounge apparel continue to be popular categories, even though the department store chain has begun to see interest in traditional spring fashion pieces. Best-selling pieces in the week of March 10 include smocked sundresses, denim shorts and swimwear.
People won’t want to abandon the comfort, but they’ll still want to be a little bit more dressy.
Personal shopping service Threads Styling, which has clients around the world, said more clients are starting to shop again for recently booked holidays abroad and milestone events like weddings that had been postponed. But items associated with comfort, including knitwear from brands like Loewe, Khaite and Loro Piana, continue to sell well.
“What we have noticed is there is a casual edge to this dressing up,” said Threads chief executive Sophie Hill. “If you are seeing friends, there is definitely a feeling of you want to look very put together. But again, we’re so used to wearing casual outfits that it’s not necessarily full-on.”
Going forward, consumers will likely dress in a “fusion” of formal and casualwear, Saunders said. Instead of the traditional chinos in menswear, for instance, shoppers will gravitate toward pants that have a workwear look but with an elastic waistband.
“People won’t want to abandon the comfort, but they’ll still want to be a little bit more dressy, a little bit more formal,” he said.