After a year that can be measured by the sheer volume of sweatpants acquired to work from home, there’s a glimmer of optimism on the horizon with vaccine rollouts now underway. But even as our most glamorous ensembles await their glorious day back in the sun, a return to some degree of normalcy doesn’t mean we’ll be leaving our loungewear in the dust. In fact, according to the 2021 Pinterest Predicts report, comfortable clothing is poised to take on a new kind of leading role in our wardrobes this year, as part of an on-the-brink-of-trending aesthetic the visual discovery platform dubbed “Athflow.”
“Different parts of our lives in 2020, and for better or for worse in 2021, have all just collapsed into each other,” says Aya Kanai, Pinterest’s head of content and editorial partnerships, pointing to how intertwined our professional and personal spaces have become as we began to work from home. An upheaval in how we dress followed suit in the form of sweatsuits, nap dresses, and tie-dye — a visible response to cultural shifts in how and where we work, socialize, and unwind. As we continue to adapt to the changes in our lives, loungewear will continue to evolve, too, Kanai says.
Hence “Athflow” — a word that illustrates where the trend came from, and where it’s going. This next phase of loungewear may be a product of the seemingly immortal athleisure movement, but it calls for a refined emphasis on styling by way of slick fabrics, cascading silhouettes, and coordinated sets. In short, Athflow is a polished take on ultra-casual, loose, comfortable apparel. It’s the fun feathered trim of Sleeper’s pajamas, the satisfying fit of Pangaia’s orchid purple track pants, and the romance of a billowing long-sleeve blouse by Lisa Says Gah. It’s the answer to how we’ll keep comfortable when we’re no longer relegated to the sofa, but still not ready to transition to the outfits we wore pre-pandemic.
Drawing from the behaviours of more than 400 million Pinterest users — many of whom come to the platform to plan for the future, be that a forthcoming home decor upgrade, a desert elopement, even an entrepreneurial dream-in-progress — Kanai and her team were able to make data-driven predictions on what they believe consumers will be needing in the months ahead. Their annual report identifies Athflow as an emerging trend in the fashion category ,with major potential to take off in 2021 (and for anyone with doubts, let it be known that eight out of 10 of the company’s predictions came true for 2020, the year that no one saw coming). With search volume around terms like “home dress women” doubling and “oversized outfit” tripling compared to this time last year, along with spikes in activity surrounding “soft outfits,” “oversized outfits,” and “cotton jumpsuits,” the people — or at least, their IP addresses — have spoken. And what they want are ultra-wearable looks that can be dressed up or down; looks that are for swooning or Zooming.
More specifically, Pinterest defines Athflow as “professional enough for the ‘office,’ stretchy enough for the yoga mat, and comfy enough for the couch.” This does sound a lot like athleisure itself. The difference, however, is how the category could inform the way we turn up to the workplace or more business-like settings, whenever and wherever that might be.
After a year of comfort taking centre stage in all things style, it’s not so far off to imagine office-goers feeling tempted to swap their crisp pre-pandemic slacks for roomy joggers upon receiving the green light to go back to their long-abandoned desks. Kanai also believes the rise of Athflow will correspond with the decline of genderedness in clothing — a fitting observation considering the trend’s characterizing lack of form and inclusive fit. The rules of the dress code as we know it may become as flexible as the lockdown fabrics we’ll be reluctant to abandon.
“This idea of who is the self that you bring to the office and what does professionalism look like, I think is very much reflected in the Athflow concept because what is appropriate for professional dressing, what’s appropriate for career dressing, all of that is changing,” Kanai asserts.
Heather Gramston, head of womenswear at Browns Fashion, shares that it came as no surprise that loungewear over-performed for the online luxury retailer last year as comfort eclipsed all other priorities for those following stay-at-home orders in their abodes. And with working-from-home forecasted to stick in some capacity post-pandemic, so too, she says, will the appeal of the outfits we wear while doing so, whether or not we’re still in the cloffice (that’s quarantine speak for a closet-office).
“We expect this to continue as there is likely to be a permanent shift to working more often from home and, undeniably, our mindset has changed around loungewear which is now being incorporated as an everyday outfit outside of that working-from-home vibe,” Gramston explains. It’s true that it’s not uncommon to find people wearing pajama-esque get-ups or ribbed two-piece sets à la Simon Miller everywhere from the park to the grocery store (and a sleek pair of mules to boot).
As such, designers are being intentional about including more casualwear in their latest collections so that next season’s loungewear looks are versatile enough to transition from informal to formal settings. For Spring/Summer 2021, Browns has boosted its roster of brands with a bundle of increasingly popular labels to offer relaxed silhouettes in cotton and knit fabrics. These include The Frankie Shop, Live The Process, and LESET, among others.
High-fashion’s heavy hitters are also embracing this hybrid aesthetic of laid-back business attire. Case in point: Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons’s S/S 21 co-debut featuring extra-long hoodies layered over voluminous skirts paired with pointy-toed kitten heels (see photo above). Plus-size retailer 11 Honoré also recently launched an "Athluxury" collection. The retailer’s design director Danielle Williams-Eke describes it as “pieces that can work comfortably throughout the day but that are chic, stylish, and fit well.” This translates into a size-inclusive selection of satin T-shirts, cashmere dusters, and silky wide-leg pants from its private label and by brands such as LNA, LaPointe, Azeeza, and Baja East — all of which are worthy of a pin on an Athflow board.
The analogous trends may be about ease, but, Williams-Eke cautions, to eschew the fine line between Athflow and traditional loungewear, fit must always come first. “One rule I always follow when wearing flowy and oversized pieces is to balance your proportions. If you are wearing an oversized top, opt for a fitted pant or legging. Wearing a wide-leg flowy pant? Pair it with a fitted top. Layer your flowy jackets and sweaters over a form-fitting tank or dress,” she advises.
Like lockdown, stay-at-home attire has lasted far longer than we thought, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. With some tough days likely still ahead of us in this pandemic, the transition to outdoor clothing will be as gradual as the return to "normal" itself, so don’t store those sweatpants away just yet. But what initially materialized as a temporary fix for dressing behind closed doors has opened up new ones to a form of sartorial self-expression — one centering the wearer's comfort above all else.