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Shoppers Are Struggling With What to Wear Post-Pandemic

After more than a year of soft pants and rubber clogs, consumers are finally venturing out again to offices, vacations, and events — but many of them are having a hard time figuring out what to wear.

According to a new survey of 2,000 U.S. shoppers conducted by Nordstrom, 40% reported feeling stuck in their personal style, while 35% feel bored with what’s currently in their closets.

For some, their tastes have shifted throughout the course of the pandemic, while others have changed sizes or sworn off uncomfortable clothes and footwear for good. A quarter of respondents say they no longer care about trends, though 35% said they are now more open to trying new styles.

For retailers, this new consumer mindset will help determine the path and pace of the industry’s recovery, so it’s important they’re able to help shoppers navigate this new world — and, of course, how to dress for it.

While many professionals have neglected whole swaths of their closet since moving to remote work last spring, a return to the office — whether for full-time or hybrid work — is imminent for most. Nordstrom’s e-commerce site has seen a 165% increase in customer searches for “work clothes” in recent months, the retailer said, with 20% of those surveyed saying they are looking for help finding outfits for work.

Even as company dress codes are expected to be far more relaxed in the post-WFH world, office workers won’t all be wearing Nikes or Birkenstocks on the job. Among those surveyed, 18% said they were looking forward to wearing statement boots to work this fall, while 17% said they were excited to wear heeled shoes again (though whether they’ll feel the same way after a long commute or an eight-hour workday is perhaps a different story).

Some brands, like Stuart Weitzman, have already begun to see customers dip their toes back into dress shoes, though sneakers and casual styles are still the industry’s cash cows.

In the first quarter of 2021, total fashion footwear sales in the United States rose 7% year-over-year to $2 billion, according to The NPD Group, surpassing not only 2020’s lackluster numbers but also 2019’s results. Dressier styles were still down double digits compared with 2019, said Beth Goldstein, executive director and industry analyst of fashion footwear and accessories, while, “in the fashion space it was the more casual, comfort and athleisure-oriented categories that continued to perform best and grew versus 2019.”

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