No Parties, No Problem: How Fashion Is Selling Holiday Clothes in 2020

Published Dec. 14, 2020

In a normal year, shoppers would look to Clare V, the Los Angeles-based handbag maker best known for its mid-priced purses, for a shimmery, metallic clasp bag to accessorise their holiday party wares.

But in 2020, with fewer parties on the calendar, the brand is hoping comfort-first clothing — which for Clare V means rhinestoned, puffed-sleeve knit sweaters and matching sweatpants — will prove just as popular as its fête-specific gear. So far, so good: apparel currently makes up 30 percent of the label’s sales, up from 10 percent in 2019.

“In any holiday season, you would see us having a lot of holiday bags, sparkle bags, things that people want to bring to parties,” founder Clare Vivier said. “And this year, it was clear that there was just not going to be a market.”

Across the industry, brands have recalibrated their holiday plans, as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic put a damper on the party season. Resort, pre-spring, or holiday collections usually include flashier, fun clothes made for celebratory nights out. This year, fashion’s approach to the holidays include changing product assortment or, at the very least, the marketing around it.

“This is a very practical holiday season,” said Jessica Ramirez, retail research analyst at Jane Hali & Associates. “And retailers are being really practical with inventory.”

According to data from retail analytics firm Edited, the number of new styles of holiday party dresses arriving online across the US mass market has declined by 21 percent compared to 2019. Instead, more customers are searching “Christmas” and “festive” knitwear, and “glam pyjamas” — silk, satin and feather-trimmed pieces — Lyst data found.

This year’s holiday shopping season represents a conundrum for brands eager to cash in on the high-volume sales month traditionally focused on lively social events. In a year where sweatpants, pyjamas and activewear dominated fashion, fashion brands have had to adjust their own offerings just to survive. Retailers learned too late the perils of useless inventory, when clothes for the spring festival season sat stale after consumers cancelled travel plans under the virus’ first wave. For this holiday, they were keen not to make the same mistake twice, Ramirez said.

E-commerce retailer Revolve, best known for its Instagram-ready, trend-focused items influencers are tapped to help sell, is still selling sequin-adorned, crushed-velvet and satin minidresses alongside beaded clutches.

But much of its offerings this holiday season are focused on separates rather than dresses and jumpsuits that the Revolve shopper “can dress up or dress down for super-intimate at-home events and small gatherings,” said Lauren Yerkes, vice president of buying and merchandising for Revolve. “There is still some element of novelty that she is looking for, whether it be her top, a leather pant, a speciality knit. She wants some element of fun during the holiday season.”

Festive separates were also in high demand for the plus-size retailer Eloquii, chief executive Mariah Chase said. Its customers were still keen on celebrating the holidays, even if only virtually or in accordance with social distancing guidelines.

Still, there may be some pent-up demand for festive holiday dressing from consumers who have largely spent nine months stuck at home, not unlike how Americans are driving a Christmas tree boom to fight the Covid-19 blues.

This is a very practical holiday season, and retailers are being really practical with inventory.

Reformation is still selling glitzy styles, like a $248 gold sequinned wrap dress, and telling its customers, “You probably don’t need anyone to tell you to stay home this New Year’s Eve...However, it’s still a damn good excuse to wear a fire dress.” The brand said that its customers have continued purchasing dresses, but that its holiday and New Year’s Eve collections this year are “much smaller compared to previous years.”

In addition to offering more comfortable styles, fashion brands have also leveraged the unusual holiday season to test new collection ideas and marketing strategies, said retail consultant Robert Burke. For example, Jacquemus offered an all-pink Christmas capsule collection (a standout in a season drowning in gold lamé, crystal embellishment and satins) that did little to evoke the holiday season but excited shoppers nevertheless. Some items from the collection — made up of affordable gifting-ready keychains, socks and knitwear — sold out quickly.

California-based Vince, meanwhile, focused less on differentiating its Pre-Spring collection (which was designed in late 2019) from what it might normally offer in a given holiday season. Velvet dresses with a double-V neckline and tromp l’oeil pleats, luxe cashmere and tapered trousers were hardly divergent for the brand, creative director Caroline Belhumeur said. But the marketing surrounding the collection, executed in June, focused on entertaining at home. The collection campaign imagery, an intimate lookbook that photographer Josh Olins shot featuring artist Conie Vallese sprawled barefoot across a sectional sofa — not at the centre of a crowded seasonal soiree — apparently resonated with consumers.

 

Belhumeur said that the brand’s marketing emails to subscribers have been opened more frequently.

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