Is it just us, or are our quarantine leggings getting pushed further and further back in our drawers? It’s not that we don’t love the incorporation of athletic styles into high fashion and activewear with luxury; there’s no denying that athleisure was one of the biggest overarching trends of the 2010s. Leggings officially joined the pants category and celebrities on their way to the gym decked out in workout gear became an undeniable part of street style. But while we tip our hats to the mark that the activewear wave has left on fashion as a whole, looking forward to the post-COVID decade ahead of us begs the question, “what will be the new athleisure?”
The collective preference for sweatsuits and matching sets that swept the nation thanks to a worldwide pandemic that kept us home and working in our pajamas may not hold steady in a reopening world. To answer the question of what athleisure will be replaced by, we have to take a look at the direction that fashion is currently headed in and the state of the world that we dress to live in.
Frivolity in any form (whether it be frivolous clothing or indulging in hobbies in a time of stripping back the nonessential to focus efforts on only the most needed resources, jobs, and activities) tends to seems like an unnecessary luxury in times of crisis. Case in point: utility clothing popularized in 1940s Britain as a direct result of a need to ration clothing materials.
The practical, simple utility style featured a range of garments including a one-piece “siren suit,” worn over clothing to escape to air raid shelters, that is still worn and known today as the boiler suit. Think cleaner lines, shorter skirts, square (rather than puffed) shoulders, and sensible wedge heels as well as a push for repairing and mending clothing rather than buying replacement items. These utility styles caught on in popularity thanks to a few well-placed celebrity endorsements, and from the Utility Clothing Scheme came utilitarian fashion, which typically includes outdoor and military-inspired gear, workwear, and styles like vests and cargo pants.
This style that went on to become a major fashion trend was a result of the garment industry’s response to the state of the nation and the mass transition from more wasteful styles of clothing to those that were appropriate for the economic and political state of the country. Fashion history has a tendency to repeat itself so 80 years later in the face of the current state of our nation, is utility circling back around?
The Spring/Summer 2021 and Fall/Winter 2021 seasons have been a collective celebration of joyful fashion. If there were fabric rationing limitations in place, houses like Valentino, Balenciaga, and Schiaparelli would certainly come up short-handed as their most recent haute couture collections involved oversized silhouettes, puffed sleeves, structured ballgowns, and intricate detailing. However, we’ve also seen said designers look to the past for design inspiration in a way that explores and riffs off of the garments that were worn by those who came before us.
Jean Paul Gaultier, known for Madonna’s infamous cone bra, sent updated iterations of utilitarian styles down the runway. Trench coats became voluminous strapless tan gowns, quilted bomber jackets were reimagined with oversized sleeves, and lug sole boots were paired with bubble-hem strapless dresses. The way that Chitose Abe of Sacai, guest designer for Jean Paul Gaultier for the Fall/Winter 2021 couture season, chose to corset a puffer coat is the perfect example of utilitarian-inspired styles that riff off of practicality in a way that is absolutely impractical and completely artistically captivating.
Abe’s Fall 2021 RTW collection for Sacai gave us a taste of what was to come with her Jean Paul Gaultier collection as bomber jackets, puffer vests, and utility belts were in abundance. Courrèges Spring/Summer 2022 chose to take a more traditional approach to utility with clean lines, sturdy leather and denim, and windbreakers. Fendi’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection involved a pair of utility gloves meant more for gardening than gallivanting across town, Tod’s Spring/Summer 2021 showed massive tote bags in addition to fashion’s favorite minis as a nod to practicality, and maybe the most direct reference to the resurgence of utility was Riccardo Tisci’s Burberry black denim boiler suits with contrast stitching, a fashionable recreation of the British wartime siren suit.
Fashion seems to be flirting with utility in a way that lives somewhere between practicality and play. 2021’s fashion references the past in a way that’s not always pragmatic but is still deeply structured and almost comforting — or at least, as comforting as stiff fabrics and buckles can be. Plus, there’s a clever sort of circularity with the recycling of utility fashion that gives us plenty of food for thought when it comes to how consumers view the purpose of clothing styles in times of crisis as well as the resources that the fashion industry consumes.
And perhaps some fashion aficionados enjoy the costume-like element that comes with the idea of dressing in a sort of apocalyptic utilitarian armor as a political statement while others might prefer utility styles for practicality (how many precious rolls of toilet paper could you have stuffed into the large, deep pockets of your cargo pants a year ago?)
Street style stars who were responsible for the massive athleisure craze are also leaning into utility fashion. From lug-sole boots to sensible black leather Matrix-style trenches to the red leather boiler suit worn by supermodel Coco Rocha, these well-dressed individuals are yet again normalizing wearing a niche style of clothing for fashion purposes (sound familiar? That’s exactly what happened with athleisure.) Does the fact that the street crowd has welcomed utility in with open arms mark the end of comfortable, on-our-way-to-the-gym athleisure?
Utility fashion is structured and tailored, vastly different from matching sets of workout gear to the point where it almost seems as though the two could not coexist. But if a sense of practicality and preparedness is what even the most fashionable of dressers are seeking out in 2021, it’s safe to say that there’s an entire world of post-war, pre-apocalyptic styles just waiting to be fully tapped into.END
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createdAt:Wed, 21 Jul 2021 20:35:04 +0000
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