To most, the December soundtrack of yuletide tunes and jingle bells signals the fast-approaching, snow-dusted end to yet another year. But to anyone who loves fashion, these sounds translate to four slinky syllables that were but a mere whisper at this exact time last winter: par-ty-dress-ing. While holiday fêtes aren't back to pre-pandemic proportions, our social calendars still include fun, albeit shrunken-down, gatherings calling for festive outfits (which are shrinking in equal measure). But just as mindsets have evolved over the course of the pandemic, so, too, has our definition of occasionwear, which is why the sequin and velvet dresses of seasons past are no longer the go-to choice of attire. Not when there’s a plethora of party knitwear vying for our attention.
“As we welcome the idea of dressing up and going out again, sexy knits are becoming a popular choice for our customers,” says Heather Gramston, head of Womenswear Buying at Browns. Ever since the rise of Jacquemus pin-tops and Khaite cashmere bralettes that coincided with increasing vaccination rates, retailers are seeing consumers gravitate toward more revealing sweaters, especially with the holidays on the horizon. A recent data drop from the global search platform Lyst shows that pageviews for “party knitwear” have increased by 29% since the start of November, with “asymmetrical,” “cutout,” and “bodysuit” among the most commonly used search terms. (Sparkles, sequins, and crystal embellishments in this category are also trending.)
“Dressing up has evolved post-lockdown, and after months of wearing exclusively loungewear, these fashion knits and bras perfectly bridge the gap between being sexy and comfortable while not compromising on style,” Gramston continues, adding that Browns has expanded its knitwear offering this season to meet this demand. She says that separates and two pieces have been particularly popular, with Isa Boulder’s sleek styles like the Cage Knitted Tank Top (described on the Browns website as a “granny”-approved equivalent of Madonna’s cone bra) piquing shoppers’ interest. Gramston also points out Swedish designer Emma Gudmundson, whose demi-couture collections are produced on her at-home knitting machine, as another customer favorite.
The pieces that are trending this holiday season are nothing like your average hot-cocoa-by-the-fire kind of knits. No offense to Tom Daley, but those chunky, hand-crocheted, cottagecore-esque sweaters that we bundled up in during lockdown aren’t cutting it for the style-oriented optimists among us who are hoping for more occasions to shed some layers in 2022. After months of rule-following, we’re prepared to emerge from this period of restrictions (once it's safe to do so) all too ready to toss our sartorial sensibilities out the window, letting in a gust of skin-exposing contradictions: ultra-cropped cardigans, turtlenecks with cutouts, shredded sweaters.
While this is bad news for the humble party dress, it’s not exactly a surprise considering the recent wave of weird knitwear trends. Barely-there boleros, wool-like lingerie, ribbed bustiers, and sweaters on the brink of bursting open at the buttons (see Dua Lipa’s Instagram or Samantha Jones at a baby shower for reference) overtook social feeds this year, preparing us for this moment.
With that in mind, Sunny Williams, founder of House of Sunny — the label behind the Hockney dress that garnered a cult following after it was spotted on Kendall Jenner in 2020 — has channeled the sell-out success into similarly clingy sweaters featuring removable collars, cuffs, and sleeves. These modular designs also have button and zip enclosures to give wearers the option to reveal a flash of midriff. “Knitwear can feel soft and comfortable, but too safe alone, so to add a fun party silhouette seems to be a modern solution to outfit building, staying warm, and elevating [a look],” Williams says, advising to style the pieces with shiny or leather-like pants to add a party-ready feel.
“A party knit is not only wearable, but it’s a way to embrace the sexy, skin-baring trend in a more friendly, toned-down way,” says Gramston, who suggests pairing cropped knits with a suit skirt and knee-high boots for a ‘90s aesthetic that’s just the right amount of risqué.
Even as our social lives continue to resume, and scant attire follows suit, we certainly won’t be abandoning loungewear entirely, especially after it's been so good to us for so long. Therein lies the secret sauce to party knits, which promise stay-at-home levels of comfort tailored to environments outside of the home. With temperatures dropping, we’re outgrowing the mini dresses in favor of an equally glamorous aesthetic that delivers the best of both worlds — no extra fabric required.
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