Remember the early days of quarantine, when there was a sense of novelty to our new laissez-faire-comfort reality? But much like all-day access to endless TV streaming and sparkling new WFH set-ups, the freedom to wear nothing but leisurewear lost its lustre; it was the very definition of too much of a good thing. Slipping on a pair of bike shorts and cable-knit socks with a crisp cotton blouse (with no one on Zoom being any the wiser) went from wondrous workaround to uninspired illusion in a matter of months. Even dropping a few hundred dollars on a machine-washable cashmere sweatsuit—something that would’ve been considered an indulgent purchase only a year before—couldn’t ignite the same dopamine-driven joy it once did.
So, why the apathy? Well, comfort, at its core, is only meant to act as a reprieve— an ephemeral sedative released when we need it most. Even as we so desperately sought it while uncertainty swelled around us, this solace-driven dressing was never supposed to be a long-term fix. It simply couldn’t keep up with our growing longing for the before times. Luckily, designers across the fashion spectrum caught on to our leisure fatigue and the spring/summer season saw a decided rebound from our plush and languid mood. But if you were hoping for postwar Roaring Twenties party style—Gatsby-esque sequins, feathers and ballgowns—you’ll have to wait until the fall. Instead, we’ve been presented with a happy medium to help set the pace, with the most present-minded collections dialing in on elegance and simplicity—garments that focus on a feeling rather than any discernible trend.
In New York, Proenza Schouler’s nudge to think beyond the sweats—a streetwise slinky ’70s-inspired number—came down to the details: sleek ribbed stretch knit, an exaggerated point collar and bold black buttons that punctuated the muted mint colour. Basically, it’s the type of look that inspires one to actually get dressed again. Over at Michael Kors, the purveyor of classic American sportswear bridged our conflicting desire for ease and opulence by pairing an emerald-green asymmetrical knit with a sinuous silk skirt, its lustrous drape catching the light in a way fleece never could. Hermès’ surprising take on the flight suit—a clavicle-exposing cerulean one-piece devoid of any bells and whistles—is the ideal accompaniment to a sunny park gathering, although such use might warrant your first trip to the dry cleaner in nearly a year.
The fact is, we’re not out of the proverbial woods just yet, and our clothing, like our culture, has to reflect that. But there’s beauty in this fashion purgatory we find ourselves in: We’re not abandoning comfort entirely; nor are we reaching for an out-of-touch display of exuberance. Change, we learned all too well in 2020, is best served in small doses.
For the latest in fashion, beauty and culture, sign up to receive ELLE's daily newsletter.