Women Are ‘Revenge Shopping’ After COVID

Following months of depressed spending in the U.S.—clothing sales dropped 79% in the first months of the pandemic—and with summer on the horizon, it seems this pattern is set to repeat.

But what, exactly, is shopping after COVID going to look like?

WGSN’s Morgan-Petro says the pendulum on what people are buying is starting to shift, although not completely. “Women are still largely buying comfort-focused items at the moment. But, this does not mean they’re not also fashion items. We’re seeing a shift in demand for more hybrid pieces that serve multiple end-uses. Knit dresses, for example, are a key item…A knit dress can be worn at home, at work, while working from home, or out to dinner with friends – checking many boxes and offering a great cost-per-wear value.” Other items Morgan-Petro points to are wide-leg pants and knit sweater-like pants — casual items but with a fashionable flair.

Knit dresses—like this one from Staud—are emerging as versatile staples. ($165 at Saks Fifth Avenue)

For retailers, the theme around what is selling right now comes down to a feeling: happiness.

“It’s been really fun to see our customer gravitate toward brighter colors and pastels, to floral prints, denim in new washes and fits, and items that she can wear to events or on summer vacations,” said Lauren Yerkes, Chief Merchandising Officer, at Revolve. “We are feeling she wants to get back out into the world,”

Revolve’s recent top sellers—Song of Style’s 3.5-inch stacked wooden heels, a For Love and Lemons bustier gown, and Cult Gaia’s cut-out knit maxi dresses—couldn’t be further from stretch pants.

At Saks Fifth Avenue, “bright colors and bold prints” have been selling well according to the retailer’s SVP, Fashion Director Roopal Patel, along with knit dresses and items made from natural materials such as raffia.

Accessories, which had been a sole bright spot for the fashion industry during the worst of COVID, continue to be strong, but now it seems women particularly want to retire their everyday sneakers for footwear that’s still comfortable but far more stylish. 

“Shoes have been selling across the board,” Patel said. “For example, sporty sandals and slides from brands such as Dior, Chanel, Prada, and Isabel Marant.”

At Net-a-Porter women are buying up statement items. Libby Page, the e-commerce site’s Senior Market Editor said Valentino’s oversized neon silk shirt and Erdem’s floral-print minis have been selling swiftly. “We’re seeing our shoppers gravitate toward bright colors and light dresses,” she said. Statement pieces like Bottega Veneta’s electric green cropped jacket and embellished party dresses from The Attico are also appealing to shoppers. 

Affordable dresses are also seeing spikes across the board—something women had little need for this year. “Dresses are a top search [on Banana Republic’s website] which definitely signals that the customer is looking to “get dressed” again,” Lauren Kazemi, VP of Women’s Merchandising at Banana Republic, said. A green pleated mini dress and a floral print maxi are currently best sellers at the retailer, she said.

Women are also starting to make summer plans, which clearly includes vacations, weekends away, and much-needed beach days. As a result, we’re buying swimwear again. At e-commerce retailer Matches Fashion, bathing suit sales were up 50% in April versus March, with pieces from Cossie + Co and Hunza G. getting snapped up.

The retailer’s shoppers are also planning to get dressed for the multitude of weddings that were put on hold during the last year.

“As the world starts to open up again and intimate events become more of a possibility, we’ve seen our customer gravitate toward occasion day dresses,” Liane Wiggins, Head of Womenswear at Matches, said. “Our wedding edit continues to do well, but even more so in the past month as restrictions begin to ease.

At several retailers, swimwear has seen a boost in sales, including Hunza G’s signature crinkle-jersey suits. ($152 at Matches)

Colorful pieces, floral prints, and dresses of all kinds aren’t groundbreaking purchases—especially as we move into spring and summer—but they certainly feel that way for shoppers after a year of hoodies, elastic-waist pants, and fuzzy slippers.

“I’ve really missed the dressing up part of being out in the world, seeing what people are wearing on the subway, on the sidewalks, seeing what the younger people are wearing in my office, and bringing a freshness to my style,” Worthy said. “That said, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to wearing uncomfortable shoes.” 

Leah Bourne is a New York-based writer and editor. 

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