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COVID-19 upended fashion trends, but will they last? History offers some clues

For years, I’ve resisted the lure of the sweatpant, from the velour Juicy Couture sweatsuits of the 2000s to the Lululemon joggers of the 2010s. But 2020 broke me. When the pandemic hit the U.S. and it became clear I’d be confined to my home, I stocked up on the softest, comfiest sweatpants I could find. I’ve stayed wrapped in their cosy embrace for nine months straight.

And I’m far from alone. The pandemic has transformed consumers’ relationship with clothes. For one thing, we’re buying fewer garments. Fashion industry revenues are expected to drop by a third this year, the equivalent of $640 billion in lost sales. When we do shop, we buy the most casual clothes we can find, like pajamas, loungewear, and, most notably, sweatpants. Purchases of sweats increased by 80% in April, and Google searches for thegarment hit a 14-year high.

As 2021 approaches, there are big questions looming over the fashion industry. Will Americans give up their sweatpants when the pandemic is over? Or has fashion permanently shifted? The answer is still unclear, but for a hint at what we might wear after the crisis, we can look to the past.

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