What are we going to wear?

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Written by Sapna Maheshwari

Ties. Dozens of patterns, colors and fabrics – discounts on 300 different styles. That’s what Nordstrom had planned for its big sale last July. The company had worked with trend forecasters and talked to designers, but history was its best guide. Based on previous sales, the retailer was confident shoppers would seek deals on office wear such as ties, dresses, heels and handbags. By the end of February 2020, she had ordered everything she planned to sell at the event.

Clothing Department stores have fashion desks filled with an undisclosed number of employees who follow new styles, surf social media, and liaise with designers. (Source: New York Times)

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Months later, the world had reorganized itself in a way that no trend forecaster could have predicted. The summer sale was pushed back to August and only had 15 types of ties. (People still sometimes dressed for Zoom calls.)

“There was nothing to stay home and work remotely,” Teri Bariquit, Nordstrom’s head of merchandising, said in an interview. The retailer embarked on tracing terms that newly isolated shoppers were searching for on its website and on Google (“cozy” and “slippers” among them). He frantically contacted suppliers to buy more sportswear and children’s clothing. And he created a tool for customers to create lists of products they wanted in the sale before it even started.

The world of retail operates on the prediction of the future. What you buy in July was decided in November. Identifying trends was mostly done in person – retailers had their eyes and ears on the ground, looking for cool. Now it’s an obsessive study of web traffic and reviews, Instagram and TikTok posts, marriage registry data, and restaurant and hotel reservations. It has always been a piece of the puzzle for many chains, but it has become essential to their survival over the past year or so.

As we prepare to return to the real world, what we buy and wear when we get there is more dictated than ever by our lives online.

“The trends are no longer relevant and it’s really about how people lived, what they did and what they felt,” said Anne Crisafulli, senior vice president of merchandising at Madewell. “These are the questions we started to ask ourselves. It was less about “Are the mini dresses in or out?” “Or” What are the impressions? “

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What we wore in 2020

A festive cape, draped over your shoulders, paired with a dress and glittering heels as you sip mulled wine. This is the kind of scene Macy’s envisioned for the holiday season in 2020, before the reality of Zoom nights in living rooms.

“We felt really good about this dress up opportunity, people felt really glamorous,” said Nata Dvir, Macy’s merchandising manager. “We were thinking of outerwear as bold as capes.”

Bloomingdale’s, which is owned by Macy’s, had anticipated “a mix of utility and romance,” which would have included puffed sleeves, eyelets and maxi dresses, said Denise Magid, Bloomingdale’s executive vice president who oversees the loan. to wear.

Department stores have fashion desks filled with an undisclosed number of employees who follow new styles, surf social media, and liaise with designers. Large retailers also typically subscribe to online services that bundle signals from Google Trends and social media. They work with agencies specializing in fashion forecasting, including Stylus and WGSN, which project broader consumer habits as well as more granular details such as seasonal color palettes, textiles and silhouettes. They all obsessively follow their competition.

Clothing He can see when women create collections of potential rental clothing with tags indicating whether they are for birthdays, honeymoons, or other events. (Source: New York Times)

Much of this work took place in person. WGSN, for example, offered city guides to US retail buyers when traveling overseas. “If a shopper of a department store wanted to go to Paris, we would have a guide that would tell them where to go and eat and which stores they should see for different things,” said Francesca Muston, vice president of fashion content at WGSN. . The parades were also important. At Bloomingdale’s, before the pandemic, “the runway was a huge component of what we expected, because what you saw on the runway would spill over into other collections,” said Magid.

As everything went virtual last year, including the runway shows, social media took on new importance and retailers rushed into anything that smacked of the trend, sometimes tapping Los Angeles-based manufacturers for them. help in a shorter time.

“Instagram and TikTok have filled that void, and it’s changing the dynamics of speed and responsiveness again, because things have a shorter lifespan,” Magid said. She recalled an overnight increase in demand for denim joggers in the fourth quarter after a “famous influencer” (the retailer wouldn’t say who) wore a pair of Rag & Bone on a story. Instagram.

What we’ll wear for the rest of 2021

Jenn Hyman, CEO of Rent the Runway, knows what she doesn’t want to see anymore. As she told the clothing rental company’s purchasing team in September, “If it was lounge enough, comfortable enough, boring enough, gray enough to wear in 2020, we wouldn’t buy it. not for 2021. “

Rent the Runway, which is popular for special occasions and work wear, plans much of its activities three to six months in advance. In an attempt to predict an unpredictable future this year, the company said it had studied street traffic, OpenTable and airline bookings, as well as office occupancy rates in major cities. to understand the economic recovery and the demand for its products.

“We got to the point where we were calling wedding venues in major destinations across the country to figure out what their reservations were,” Hyman said.

The site also collected data from customers pre-booking dresses and other specific items and adding “hearts” to desired items. He can see when women create collections of potential rental clothing with tags indicating whether they are for birthdays, honeymoons, or other events.

“We started to see some very interesting and very different data, starting in early February, which led us to believe that the recovery was going to happen sooner and at a faster pace than we had originally anticipated. “said Hyman.

Clothing And he created a tool for customers to create lists of products they wanted in the sale before it even started. (Source: New York Times)

Bloomingdale’s has watched people add new wedding dates to its marriage records and gathered information from its stores in Florida, which opened earlier than elsewhere in the country. Magid said people were coming “wanting sexier dresses, bodycon dresses and going out tops,” which could be an early indicator for the rest of the country.

Despite the shock of the pandemic, retailers are cautiously bullish for the year ahead – sentiment supported by retail sales in March, which beat expectations and rose nearly 11%, including a 23% jump in clothing and accessories. Sales have since fluctuated, controlling their optimism.

There’s even good news in a potential mass movement towards high-waisted, baggy, generation-dividing jeans, a far cry from a decade of skinny jeans dominance. It offers hope that consumers are ready for something new.

How we’ll know what to wear from now on

Comfort always reigns supreme. Many retailers are hedging their bets, outlining the importance of being ‘nimble’ with inventory and championing ‘versatility’ in their clothing assortments in 2021. The focus is on clothing designed to be worn between home and work hybrid and post-hybrid work cocktails.

“I’m not super stressed if people are going to have weddings and things like that,” Crisafulli said. “We will add and buy dresses if it really starts to get better, but we have focused more on this return to real life and what everyday life will be like.”

“No one would imagine a customer wanting to come back with 4-inch stilettos and a button-down suit and tie,” Bariquit said. She’s convinced people will want to get dressed, she said, but believes they’ll dress differently for work.

Customers tell the retailer that they “love the comfort they feel in their jogging pants, but they don’t want to wear their jogging pants to the office,” she said. “So how does that translate into the soft pants of the future? “

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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