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Fashion for the pandemic? We asked the experts what to expect.

From shirtdresses to work pajamas, what designers see in the land of couture in 2021.
Fashion designer Elizabeth Carson Racker.
Fashion designer Elizabeth Carson Racker. [ Courtesy of Elizabeth Carson Racker ]
Published Aug. 11, 2020

Working in pajamas and sweatpants with no shoes and no makeup. Shirtdresses everywhere, loose fitting like a nightgown and worn with bare feet. Is this what fashion has come to? Let’s hope not, but Bay called on stylists and designers to see how they are planning to dress us in 2021.

Normally, designers are putting the finishing touches on their creations now for next spring. Like us, most designers — particularly those in the fashion hub of New York City where the pandemic hit hard — are creating at home. Many are undecided about what fashion will look like next year. Will clothing lines be flush with sweatsuits and athletic wear? Will everything be black, brown or gray? Or will we be looking for a way to stand out and express ourselves in a world where we may still be stuck in our homes?

Tampa’s Nancy Vaughn, of the White Book public relations and marketing agency, heads Tampa Bay Fashion Week, with events scheduled Sept. 23-26. For 12 years, the week has included a runway fashion show and private, designer cocktail parties.

This year, the programs will be mostly virtual. An in-person designer shopping event with time-slotted appointments is still tentative. “We’re definitely doing something, but what it looks like — we don’t know,” she said. “There’s a collective disappointment all around.” Vaughn said local designers will curb collections for fall and spring. They will create fewer, but more useful pieces. She thinks white, tan and caramel will be popular colors and that most of us will depend on wardrobe staples rather than seasonal designs. Hang on to that pair of black pants, the denim jacket that goes with a long skirt or your favorite jeans, your go-to white blouse. “If we’re able to go out, I think that there’s going to be some desire, depending on where you are in the country, that people are going to want to just wear more versatile, better quality clothing,” Vaughn said. She’s not ruling out color. “I think there’s going to be a desire for color. Color does bring a lot of joy to people,” she said.

Another buzzword in the designer world is sustainability. Vaughn said designers will continue their focus on more eco-friendly materials and longer-lasting clothing. “The industry has taken a sharp turn on clothes that are cheaply made but fashion-forward,” said designer Elizabeth Carson Racker, a Tampa native whose collections have been featured in local fashion week events. Working from her North Tampa studio, Carson Racker has two things in mind for the upcoming seasons. She said “pandemic” fashion must be affordable and it has to make a statement. For the fall and spring, Carson Racker is designing some of her popular kimono-inspired outfits, which she describes as “easy, breezy and washable.” She said her clients “want to go all out and look great but they also want to do it on a budget with colors and brightness.” She’ll be designing oversized coverups for sure. “Here I feel like customers are getting into more ethnic or travel clothing — they want it to look like it’s from somewhere else — that it’s regal, it’s rich with color or embellishments or different sight lines in creativity,” she said.

Rachel Alderson Baynard, a 2002 graduate of St. Petersburg High School, is an outerwear designer for American Eagle in New York City. She finished her spring line the day before her offices were shut down. Now, she is trying to develop collections for next summer from the desk in her cramped apartment. “I honestly don’t know what summer is going to look like just because it will be interesting to see that shift now that we are not in our offices,” she said. “We’ve all shifted from going outside to lounge wear, so that is affecting and will continue to affect my research.” Alderson Baynard is hoping for some bright spots and is craving a return to glittery, over-the-top clothes and accessories. “My thought and my wish is that it won’t be boring because I think people want hope and they want things to look forward to,” she said. “I want people to be able to lift their spirits with color. I always tend to gravitate toward the things that are bright and cheerful anyway — pandemic or not.”

Designer Rachel Alderson-Baynard working on ideas for next summer from her New York City apartment.
Designer Rachel Alderson-Baynard working on ideas for next summer from her New York City apartment. [ Photo by Rob Baynard ]

Joshua Williams, assistant professor of fashion management at Parsons School of Design in New York City, said he also expects color to be strong in 2021. He predicts there will be a desire for extravagance as people get tired of sweatpants and slippers, but designers won’t forsake slouch wear completely. “I do think that designers are thinking about comfort and how to build that in and I think that’s definitely going to be a trend that we’ll see — a little bit more work-to-home wear,” he said. “There will probably be a little bit more of a minimalism. We’re not shopping in the same way now or we’re not shopping.” He’s counting on waist-up accessories to be big sellers with so many virtual meetings and events. Cue the statement necklace and silk scarf. “A lot of people are looking for a kind of party on the top with accessories that can make it look like you are more dressed up,” he said. He also thinks “street wear” is here to stay for another year. That’s the designer-meets-luxury items like Louis Vuitton sneakers and Chanel shorts.

Anne Randell, senior vice president of marketing and e-commerce for J. McLaughlin in New York City, said the pandemic “is feeding into everything that we’re doing. We’re asking ‘How is the customer living? What are they doing?’ It’s that balance of comfortable clothes, more subdued tones, but also things that you can depend on.” Color and prints will be staying in the J. McLaughlin boutiques. “They are a big part of our DNA,” said Randell. “I think people are getting dressed for meetings and trying to get some sort of normalcy.”

Fancy or funky, Vaughn of Tampa expects designers to come through for their customers. “What I think is this is interesting and scary too — it’s during these times that people get decision fatigue and they want people to tell them what to wear,” she said. “But the consumer is driving this. It’s going to be wild to watch all of this shake out.”