Creatures of comfort, rejoice! Hideaway the suited-and-booted pieces in your wardrobe because we’re embracing a slew of silken, slinky, and snug labels that put coziness front and center. From quilted housecoats to slubby knitwear, shearling-lined slippers to satin pajamas, there's a new wave of brands making housebound clothes suitable for every day. Encouraging hibernation and slumber over participation in the rat race, the importance of being idle has never been so clear.
The clothes we wear will always reflect the zeitgeist. Sometimes they are armor, gearing us up to fight whatever battles we face; at others, they serve the purpose of protection, guarding us against the harsh realities of the outside world. In the 1980s, women donned bold-shouldered blazers and knife-like stilettos as they fought for recognition in the cold, hard world of business. To carve out space among the Gordon Gekkos and Donald Trumps of Wall Street, or navigate the corporate ruthlessness of Thatcher's Britain, they had to dress the part. Now, the world is hostile in new ways and, instead of sharp edges, we’re settling into an altogether more protective and cushioned aesthetic – and brands are coddling us accordingly.
David McGillivray and Rebecca Zhou founded their New York-based label OFFHOURS for this very reason. Self-described "inactive-wear for being indoors", the concept for OFFHOURS came about in 2016, born out of the toxic work culture that was pervasive at the time. "I can remember the tone around work/life balance was this unbearable 'hustle porn' style culture," David says. "Leaders in the design and technology industry were glorifying exceedingly long hours and looking down on those even taking full weekends off. Luckily this pretty rapidly evolved to something healthier, but the narrative was still one around always being active. I’ll be the first to say being active is important for both physical and mental health, but there wasn’t really an advocate for taking time for yourself without that time being in a gym or on a hike."
The duo’s first product is the Homecoat, perhaps the closest you can get to wearing your duvet out of the house: a puffy, padded, belted jacket that comes in a variety of soothing colorways, from sage to sand. It’s as warming as a cup of cocoa. While quilted, puffer, and padded coats – from Maison Margiela to Fendi, Uniqlo to Moncler – have reigned supreme for some time now, the homeliness of OFFHOURS' take is the material antithesis of get-up-and-go culture.
"Fashion has always been a mirror for society; politics, mood, aspirations, all embodied in various ways throughout the years," David says. "From the very direct restrictions during WWII, where pleats and ruffles were banned, stripping the playful, soft elements of the wardrobe down to something more utilitarian and efficient out of necessity, to political expression more recently, where we’ve seen fashion be a more literal outlet with things like MAGA hats and protests with a sea of pink knitted hats. And concurrently (and not coincidentally) we’re seeing a turn inwards, to people being increasingly concerned about self-care and their mental health, spending more time at home, cooking, getting back to basics because they're frazzled and depleted by the stress induced by the news cycles of the last few years. That change in lifestyle is causing a surge in demand for products that speak to that way of living, and rediscovered appreciation for lounging and relaxation."
On a micro level, think of the Labour activists in Britain who, after weeks and months of volunteering and canvassing, collectively saw rest, retreat, and self-care as the appropriate response to the party's devastating defeat in December's general election. On a wider scale, look at the global boom of wellness culture: it’s no coincidence that in the face of the #MeToo movement, the urgency of the climate crisis, and the rise of fascism across Europe and North America, we’re choosing to focus on ourselves instead of the state of the world. "The last few years especially have been rough politically, and while it’s imperative we make our voices heard, I think we’re also starting to realize that we can’t be in that state of pushing back and protesting with all our being 100% of the time, as well as hold down a job, and healthy relationships, without taking some time to help ourselves feel safe, and comforted, and recharge, and sure, maybe that means retreating a little to clear our heads," David offers. "Even if it’s so we just have the energy to get up the next day and go canvassing again, or hold down your job, and keep functioning in our lives."
Maeve wears Weekday Priscilla Top, $45.00, available at Weekday; Desmond & Dempsey Milou Print Wide Leg Pajama Trousers, $87.45, available at Desmond & Dempsey; Desmond & Dempsey Quilted La Loteria Print Navy Robe, $404.60, available at Desmond & Dempsey; Hush Arundel Slippers, $78.00, available at Hush; Anni Lu Marianne 18kt Gold-Plated Necklace, $290.00, available at Harvey Nichols; Anni Lu Rock and Sea Necklace, $235.00, available at Harvey Nichols; Samira wears Sleeper Party Pajama Set with Feathers in Polka Dot, $320.00, available at Sleeper; Lola wears Christopher Kane Asymmetric Ruffle Sweater, $645.00, available at Browns; Muji Flannel Side Seamless Pajama Bottoms, $59.00, available at Muji.
Beyond the nonstop bad news cycle and politically turbulent times, significant shifts in lifestyle are also turning us on to cloudlike comfort. According to the 2019 UK Working Lives report, 54% of workers are putting in non-traditional hours as flexible working booms, while the freelance economy continues to grow: in 2017, there were 4.8 million self-employed workers in the UK. Less rigid modes of working no longer require a corporate uniform, and when so many of us are able to work from the sofa (or bed), we want our clothes to be warm, soft, and flexible. "When you’re working at home, even denim can feel restrictive," says Francesca Muston, VP of fashion at trend forecasting platform WGSN, "so we’re now looking at designs which feature a higher comfort level including stretch and softness."
Hyperconnectivity doesn't just mean that people can work remotely (and swaddle themselves in duvet-like layers and soft-as-silk separates while they do it). The toll on our minds and bodies of being 'on' 24/7 is such that we’re battening down the hatches and staying indoors more than ever before. According to Research Now, 73% of 16-21-year-olds prefer staying at home to going out, and with the rise of the access economy, where films, food, and drink can all be delivered to your sofa via Netflix and Postmates, why risk further burnout when you could chill at home in an oversized sweater and blanket-like scarf, free from the hassle of dealing with other people?
Far from being judged as antisocial or lazy, the homebody economy is our new way of decompressing from the stresses of the outside world and logging off from a nonstop stream of other people’s lives. "Being 'inactive' to us can mean a lot of things, we don’t dictate or discern between what it means to you," David tells me. "It could be watching Netflix, or reading, or color-coordinating your bookshelf, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is space you make to do (or not do) whatever it is that recharges you, and makes you feel like you again without the need to share it on Instagram or log it in an app." So long as you’re not withdrawing from society to the point of isolation, neglecting responsibilities, or letting down friends, preserving energy and spending time with yourself is essential self-care – and it's more of a priority than ever.
Naturally, sleep is a huge factor here, too. The sleep industry is growing bigger by the day, with podcasts, apps, and audiobooks all geared towards us getting a better night’s sleep. We measure our REM and invest in sleep therapy lamps, are exposed to countless adverts for mattress brands and talk about how tired we are as if it’s a competition. The boundaries between work, play, and sleep have become so blurred that it’s no surprise that fashion is serving this booming sector of the wellness industry accordingly.
It isn’t just the amount of time we spend at home that’s leading us to invest in comfier clothing; generation rent is throwing more cash at homeware than ever before (yes, I do need another throw pillow!) because, while we can’t afford to get on the property ladder, we still want somewhere we can call home – even if it is precarious, expensive, and subject to the whims of a monstrous landlord. We’re also turning to more traditional, quieter hobbies that don’t involve queueing, drinking, being in crowded spaces, or even getting fully dressed. The popularity of these soothing and mindful arts and crafts (knitting, anyone?) is yet another reaction to the taxing pace of life in 2020.
Maeve wears Alexachung Jacqueline Pajama Set, $419.00 available at Alexachung; Urban Outfitters x Laura Ashley Devon Quilted Jacket, $69.99, available at Urban Outfitters. Lola wears Alexachung Charlotte Boxer Pajama Set, $265.00, available at Alexachung; Hush Cashmere Socks, $64.00, available at Hush; Acne Studios Toronty Logo-Jacquard Wool-Blend Scarf, $232.00, available at Matches Fashion; Hush Arundel Slippers, $57.00, available at Hush.
Sleeper, a New York-based label founded in 2014 by former editors Kate Zubarieva and Asya Varetsa is doing just that. The self-dubbed "walking sleepwear" brand makes pajamas you can wear outside, and while there are of course silky separates fit for both the boudoir and the boardroom, there’s more to this brand than marabou-trimmed twinsets. "You can wear a pajama top to the office instead of a regular shirt, a robe can function as a summer coat, and our silk white pajamas can serve as a wedding outfit," the founders tell me.
Scroll through the brand’s Instagram page and you’ll see just how creative Sleeper's customers are being with their pieces, wearing the shearling slippers with jeans at the weekend and throwing the puff-sleeved nighties over swimwear on holiday. Versatility is key. "It’s extremely important for us to create designs that easily incorporate into wardrobes of our clients. We want the clothes we create to stay with you for the longest time possible and be worn for life’s happiest moments," Kate explains. "That’s why we use natural fabrics only and really care about the quality of each seam. We don’t want to be involved in this fast fashion machine where huge corporations produce more clothes in a week than a person can wear throughout their whole life."
Comfort dressing has connotations of copping the latest athleisure drop and going back to the ‘90s for a retro sportswear look, but while certainly influenced by the all-pervasive sportswear trend, this new cozy look sits apart from logomania and hype beasts. "We’re stylistically still impacted by athleisure," Francesca explains, "and what this means in real terms is that we’ve become accustomed to comfort dressing. Footwear, in particular, has been hugely impacted by athleisure – for a generation who have grown up wearing sneakers with everything, comfort is non-negotiable." We first saw this pivot to wearability in the demise of the high heel and rise of the trainer (Victoria Beckham famously said she "can’t concentrate in flats" but made headlines in 2016 by announcing that she could no longer wear heels; in the same year, Mintel reported that 59% of female footwear buyers prefer flat shoes over high-heeled ones) but now brands outside the streetwear bubble are creating the more wearable pieces.
Lola wears Aries Grey Sweatshirt, similar here; Birkenstock Boston Shearling Suede Leather Clogs, $165.00, available at Birkenstock; Wald Berlin Candy Man Necklace, $145.00, available at Harvey Nichols; Wald Berlin Candy Man Ciao Necklace, similar here; Lazy Oaf Small Happy Sad Throw Blanket, $104.41, available at Lazy Oaf. Maeve wears RAEY Oversized Roll-Neck Marled Sweater, $556.00, available at Matches Fashion; Hush Cashmere Socks, $64.00, available at Hush; Birkenstock Boston Shearling Suede Leather Clogs, $165.00, available at Birkenstock.
From Alexachung’s nightwear capsule to sleepwear labels like Desmond & Dempsey and Olivia von Halle, via innovators such as Sleeper and OFFHOURS, when we choose comfort, we aren't compromising on aesthetics. With natty knitwear, sumptuous silk pajamas, XXL scarves that double up as blankets, quilted coats resembling duvet covers, and padded bags that you could use as a pillow on the night bus home, why plump for anything other than cozy clothes? The lines between day and night, work and play, downtime and get-up-and-go time are more blurred than ever. Getting away with wearing your PJs outside of the house? Yes, please. Bring your home coat, too; after all, we’re creatures of comfort.