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Post-Pandemic Clothing Trends

A classroom with fashion mannequins
Photo by Melissa Taylor

Around campus, the majority of students dress in yoga pants, mom jeans and sweatshirts. But has college attire always been this way? Going to school has, for some, always been a place to look nice. Whether private or public, every semester students receive targeted clothing ads about school shopping.

Pre-pandemic, going to high school was sometimes considered a fashion show—especially the first week of school. The goal of going school shopping every summer was to get the best clothes that you could wear throughout the semester to have an impact on social standing. When children are younger, their wardrobe is often limited by their parents’ budget, but college students, with their increased financial independence, have different trends. For middle and high schoolers, stores like Aeropostale and American Eagle present trendy dupes of current styles, while college attire often focuses on comfort.

Three trends on campus really stick out: tennis skirts, oversized shirts with shorts and oversized sweatshirts. Alexandra Howell, Assistant Professor of Human Environmental Sciences and Fashion Merchandising and Design Program Coordinator, spoke with The Herald regarding college clothing trends pre-pandemic.

“When the pandemic first appeared, I believe many thought the stay at home orders would be temporary [and didn’t]…think initially there was a rush to comfort clothes, but as the initial two weeks became two months, which turned into two years, the styles changed,” Howell said.

The stay at home order created an environment of comfortability not only on college campuses but throughout society. Athleisure wear was already prominent in the streetwear community, and seeing this trend come back with a twist was so exciting. The twist with this trend is streetwear is not only casual and comfortable—it is also now high fashion.

Over the course of the pandemic, the archive and thrift community has driven prices up for worn carhartt, select Levi jeans, worn band tees and sunbathed pieces. For example, post-pandemic, Carhartt work jackets were sold as-is. Pre-pandemic, decreased quality of a Carhartt jacket doesn’t discount a price but inflates the price. When did chaos become so pretty? The archive community consists of a global trend that includes a world of Rick Owen silhouettes, archive selections of avant-garde designers such as Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo but also seeks to have the perfect faded black tee. These styles have inspired retail stores to drive their lines in nude and black colors. We can see all throughout street fashion and the runway that black is the color of the year. Some may say this is the comeback of ‘90s minimalism, but is this a reflection of the pandemic’s effect or is athleisure?

Expanding more on designers and their up and coming collections, Howell mentioned that it seemed like every fashion brand or apparel retailer is introducing “athleisure,” “comfy clothes” or “work from home wear.” The shapes of garments have also changed from fitted pre-pandemic, to baggy and shapeless, today. You can get sweatpants, hoodies and baggy clothes from any store now, not just a specific retailer. Not to mention a majority of small brand fashion businesses have created a market of specially designed sweatpant suits.

Howell stated, “Throughout 2019, fashion trends were really starting to reflect the 1990s [with] cropped tops, mini skirts, tiny backpacks, choker style necklaces, and chunkier platform shoes. This is common, styles from previous decades come back on trend, usually with a contemporary twist.” The return of 1990s trends have survived the pandemic, but the modern twist is that these elements are now suited for comfort. For example, miniskirts are now athleisure tennis skirts and platform shoes are now platform sneakers.

Every trend that has returned or began during the pandemic are reflections of the time. One trend alone does not capture the pandemic response. Comfort, worn clothing and the color black all represent COVID-19 as one.

The archive and vintage community have certainly played a role in pandemic trends and may be responsible for the uptick in black, shapeless clothing. However, fashion trends are known for their ever-changing nature, and it could be argued that trends popular during the pandemic were just coincidental. It’s possible to create a theory that digital styles are driving what’s in store, but it’s clear to see that trends are always evolving, and quickly.

By Melissa Taylor, Staff Writer


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