So what do we know from out discussion yesterday? There are a few important observations that come to mind immediately, but let's summarize first. People do really like the idea of adding certain features to their swimwear; namely pockets, zips, hoods, belts, leggings and unzippable components (this last one is key to everything I wanted to discuss). The choices are all utilitarian ... I never mentioned utilitarian but every addition is functional (or can be). Swimwear is technically a functional garment ... it has a single function ... to enable you to swim.
There are many purely aesthetic options in fashion that we could have considered but they didn't seem to rate a mention .... probably because aesthetic options are all people ever do consider to enhance swimwear. Which leaves me with the question as to why we are deliberately leaving out the non-aesthetic options ... I'm thinking this is the real question.
Try to imagine a utilitarian swimsuit. I bet the first thing you think of is a one piece and not a bikini. I'm going to almost guarantee you're not thinking about something showing lots of cheek, but more likely something with square leg holes or even leggings .... I automatically seem to imagine a sleeveless catsuit ... a one piece with legs.
Let's go with that for a moment. Say we put a belt on that ... and maybe a center front zip all the way down to the belly button, maybe to a few inches below the belt. Let's add not just two pockets below the belt line but maybe a couple of chest pockets to ... maybe with flaps? But what about a hood too .... with a draw string just about where the CF zip stops. For some crazy reason I'm seeing camouflaged prints ... maybe I've watched too many action movies ... or maybe because we were talking about neoprene a few days ago ... or maybe because of all the apocalypse fashion talk everywhere. I'm not sure.
OK where am I going with this? In two of my design groups I've been noticing something slowly happening, but recently it's become extremely pronounced. Previously very cohesive groups have become divided into polar opposites. One side thinks that after a limbo period everything will be business as usual and the other side believes that the design world has been forever changed by Covid/2020. While they don't state things as categorically as I just did, this seems to be the underlying belief from which all their opinions now form. I'm sure you've seen similar comments during the year on multiple sites. People saying things like virtual fashion shows will be the way of the future, for example. But there are also other things, like an abnormal non-seasonal surge in sales of outdoor camping equipment and clothing at a time when people aren't really in a position to go travelling. My design groups have gone from trying to predict trends to taking apart abnormal market anomalies. One side completely dismisses the anomalies, the other saying we need to recognize that the world has changed.
So the design world is split down the middle. Pantone just released a cheerfully disgusting yellow to be the colour of 2021 ... but half of the design world is hesitating and discussing everything in terms of black, camo, black chrome, carbon fiber and pure utilitarian.
We've seen a move to turn away from fast fashion, a move towards sustainable technology in textiles, a huge movement towards buying second hand clothing and thrift stores, and a renewed interest in redesigning/modifying second hand clothing (changing zips and buttons in old jackets with new colorful ones for example) .... a new version of 'Make Do and Mend'. This isn't always the cheapest option either considering fast fashion can be extremely cheap, so it's definitely a well supported ethical belief. This movement was there before the train wreck that was 2020 and will continue forward along with the rest of the environmental movement and is indeed scaring the design industry because second hand is possibly set to outstrip new!!!
This movement was always going to happen, but then a global health crisis occurred at the same time. Bare with me for a minute with a little fashion history lesson. In World War Two there was clothing rationing.
Clothing rationing essentially meant that you had to more seriously consider what you spend your coupons on. It had to cross seasons, be more functional, it had to be able to be re-purposed, etc. Young people who like thrift shops will recognize this as the slow fashion mantra ... but this was just a practical response to a crisis. The link above is important because it warns us of a very important human behavior .... even when people weren't involved with the military, the war effort or support services, they still preferred to wear clothing that was fashioned to look like it .... and designers tried to equally make utilitarian designs seem more fashionable. In a time of crisis there is a feeling of comfort and safety in wearing clothing that appears to be utilitarian even if it isn't. Oh really? Why do you think outdoor camping clothing has seen a non-seasonal surge at a time when very few are really going camping? Why do you think millennial second hand clothing flippers are switching to utilitarian?
For those who don't know, clothing flippers are people who go around buying up the best of second hand clothes, modifying or repairing it and reselling. This is not the big new American thing they make it out to be ... it's something that originated in Japanese occupied China times. Chinese people who didnt have work would help sort out what was worth repairing and what wasn't and resell it to others who were working and had no time or skills and little money. The first American flippers in the 70's (yes it's a 50 year old thing) were all in China Towns across the country.
The irony ... young Americans are trying to get away from the fast Chinese fashion born out of the necessity of poverty caused by western economic policy and do so by flipping second hand clothes to each other.
I'm sure most of you know Poshmark already.
Now I'm going to hit you with another thought. We all know that things like denim and black, for example, never go out of fashion. But how many ever stopped to consider that utilitarian is a basic underlying style that also never goes out of fashion ... ever. Think about the millions of interpretations of army jackets ... not enough? ... what about camouflaged print? ... if I told you the sales of camouflage prints are nearly as high as leopard print you might hesitantly believe me ... but how many of you would be shocked if I told you camouflage actually outstrips leopard three to one!!! What??? Utility print out selling animal print? NEVER! Camo isn't sexy right? Tell me this can't be true! Sorry folks, but it's been true for more than two decades now. But your question should be "why?" ... the answer lies in something more animalistic than animal print itself ... the need to feel powerful, safe, protected, etc ... something we think utility gives us. And right now half the world's designers are saying we've crossed the threshold in that need once more.
I'm now seeing a revolution inside my design groups. Half are going against all the traditional style and function forecasters and looking to a bleaker focus for design inspiration. It's quite possible that utilitarian (at least in style) may be the new thing for 2021 onwards .... now I'm just waiting for the Zombies to show up.
Think about this long and hard .... what's more likely next season? ... yellow and fringing ... or camouflage and utility? Come and join our Facebook group to get into the discussion.