Culture, Get the look, Team Barneys

Furlough Fashion: Life Beyond Loungewear

It’s truly bizarre to think we’ve been in and out of quarantine since March 2020 (in the UK at least). We spent our evenings waiting for an announcement from Boris, whispers of something called a ‘lockdown’, swiftly followed by a rush to Boots for hand gel.

And then, suddenly we’re all ‘at home whenever possible’.

For many of us, that means taking over the kitchen table with a laptop and dressing our top half only for countless video call engagements. Others may feel as if they’ve come to a standstill completely, waiting for their industry to kick back into action. We might have all started off well; setting an alarm that factors in our missing commute, freshly showered and perfumed for no one but a computer screen.

3 lockdowns later, it’s a different story for most of us.

How could fashion survive the pandemic?

As a marketer, I was inundated with invites to webinars on how brands could ‘survive the pandemic’. Of course, our first port of call as a company was to take a back seat, stop taking orders, close the site for a month and put staff first – but I digress.

We eagerly waited for new announcements and in the meantime, those webinars provided a comforting background noise in the absence of office chatter. There was a sense of ‘at least we’re in it together’ when hearing how other businesses were coping with the changes.

But of course, my inner cynic always wondered how someone could advise me on how to ‘survive a pandemic’ when we were all only a matter of weeks into totally unchartered territory. We were all essentially pooling ideas and data – Where are you getting traffic from? Are your customers checking their phone at different times of the day? What tone of voice are you using on social media? How are you handling the ad backlash?

That’s when someone had a breakthrough.

Yes, people were lounging around on their phones waiting for updates. No they weren’t dressing up to leave the house anymore.

Enter scene: loungewear.

The Loungewear Goldrush

Among my peers, there was one product category that people still had an appetite for. The demand for loungewear and pyjamas had increased tenfold (apparently) as people sought comfort over conventional office attire.

Instead of continuing to plough through the Christmas season with sequined party wear and jazzy novelty jumpers; we were advised to turn all our efforts into the growing loungewear market. Naturally, as a leather jacket brand, this didn’t really work out for us. 

Unless you’re interested in a leather onesie?

No, I didn’t think so.

Whilst it’s easy for us to make jokes from the sidelines, those working in the fashion buying industry had a much more turbulent experience. Imagine having the task of calling various factories to renege on various contracts for seasonal partywear in favour of loungewear. Cancelling thousands of pounds worth of orders to jump on a pandemic trend, not knowing how this would impact said factory workers, not knowing if this was a risky move and not being able to do this with the support of your co-workers as everyone was working from home.

When we say people went all-in on loungewear, we really mean it.

But this presents us with a chicken and egg scenario.

Because suddenly you have loungewear brands and ranges popping up overnight and an abundance of people who are presented with furlough pay, not being able to spend money on trips and nights out. They might have been regular online shoppers anyway, now with a little more disposable income. So they’re going to browse what’s on offer to them and they’re being sold loungewear by the double – so sales naturally rise.

What started as someone saying ‘oh, loungewear has been popular for us’ turned into a monster. 

Add to this the online echo-chamber. By now, we all know how social media works but essentially those pesky algorithms keep you in a bubble. You see what you want to see, what you interact with and what the algorithm thinks is related. 

So you’re innocently scrolling through Instagram, you see an influencer shilling loungewear. Then you see all the top brands inviting you to ‘stay home stay stylish’, advertising their new lounge range. Later, you jump onto Tiktok. You see people dancing in their pyjamas – heck, why would they dress up if they have nowhere else to be? It’s 7pm now, you’re running out of things to watch on Netflix so you figure that a little retail therapy won’t do any harm.

What’s the first thing you see?

Image displays a woman sat on her sofa reading a book, covered in a blanket with a cup of tea.Loungewear isn’t long-term

Once July 4th rolled around and lockdown restrictions had eased, everyone was ready to get back out there. However, not everyone was prepared for this. 

Again, the industry was beginning to rubberband back to ‘business as usual’. That’s quite a challenge when you have a warehouse full of leggings and dressing-gowns, but your shoppers want summer jackets and midi-skirts. Orders were cancelled, the stock was cleared, the new covid landscape said ‘jump’ and fast-fashion asked ‘how high?’

Something else was beginning to stir. People had been getting quite crafty and resourceful during lockdown. Where some people had purchased a hoodie in every colour of the rainbow – others had been upcycling and learning new creative skills online. A sub-culture was growing; one where people revamped their wardrobe or hunted down pieces on Depop to tailor to their own needs. Tye-dye became the new banana bread. People started to think twice about their online shopping habits. The bubble was beginning to burst. 

At the start of all this uncertainty, we all wanted comfort. For a lot of us that meant the freedom to stay cosy all day and swap stilettoes for fluffy sliders. But ultimately, we’re fickle creatures and there’s not much excitement in a new pair of jogging bottoms.

Then came our first big outing – Eat Out To Help Out. Who wants to celebrate their ‘lockdown debut’ in a pair of matching his and her loungewear? Surely we couldn’t all waltz down to Harvester in a chenille two-piece?

The final straw came with a dose of harsh reality. Material widely used in loungewear wasn’t always the best quality. Sure, we weren’t exactly putting out outfits through their paces while staying indoors but that was all the more reason to expect it to last. Shoppers were sour. Furlough was reduced. The pandemic lasted longer than expected. We started spending less online.

So what’s next for ‘furlough fashion’?

This might sound a little doom and gloom but actually, there’s an exciting future for fashion on the horizon. One that isn’t so dominated by brands and trends. 

Ultimately we’ve always been able to make our own choices, but this has just made it a little easier. We’ve all seen how the trend works and we’re less likely to fall for it going forward. 

The focus has shifted. We’re no longer looking at what other people wear, we’re looking at what we want to wear. After all, should we all get asked to stay indoors again – we may as well make sure we’re dressing for ourselves. But this time, it won’t be so loungewear focused. Our eyes have been opened to a whole new realm of fashion to explore – one that mixes our personal sense of style with timeless, lasting pieces.

And that’s definitely a future of fashion that we want to take part in.