How to Get Dressed Again: A Guide to Post-Pandemic Style in 2021

It was all so easy before.

We got up, got dressed, went to work. We changed outfits for the weekend, for workout classes, for nights out, for family gatherings, for trips near and far. Trends continued to cycle through, offering an opt-in for those who wanted them — and growing ever more accessible with the rapidly-expanding world of fashion on social media. Some movements, like normcore, even offered options for those who wanted the appearance of opting out, cycling outside of trends but still meticulous about the power of personal style. Even the tech-guy hoodie or those dirty Stan Smiths had something to say about its wearer, and the style tribe to which one belonged.

Then the pandemic happened. We took off our outside-world garb, the uniforms we had come to know. We put on sweatpants, slippers, Crocs and Birkenstocks. We tie-dyed to keep ourselves amused and upbeat. We matched them to our face masks. We worked in bed, worked in our pajamas. We saw the very notion of personal style, of traditional uniform, disintegrate as the constructs of time unraveled at home.

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Colorful printed masks handed out during Copenhagen Fashion Week, August 2020.
CREDIT: Kuba Dabrowski for WWD

Now, a year and some months in, as the pandemic wanes in the U.S. amid widespread vaccination, fashion — as an industry, as a decorative art form, as an agent of personal style — is forever changed. The business of fashion is building itself back up, reassessing previously held structures such as the traditional fashion calendar, the brick-and-mortar to e-commerce dynamic, wholesale strategies, even the way products are used, as the recent NFT explosion has hinted at. Both businesses and consumers are finally starting to take sustainable fashion seriously, with many designers and brand implementing their most aggressive initiatives yet this spring. And after a social justice movement last summer that continues to reverberate, the industry is finally giving due spotlight to the creatives of color who have been the backbone of some of fashion’s most vibrant work for so long.

Things are rebounding and improving yes. But when it comes to the actual fashion, the lost year has left the trend cycle — and personal style— in a lurch. It’s as if time froze, and with it the trends that used to populate daily life and pop culture. Yes, there were still fashion influencers posting their #OOTDs. But without a context, without a world around them, it didn’t feel so relevant. The dearth of street style, with all of its preening and buzz, felt even through photos, has created a stagnation for personal style. Fashion, we found out, is at its best with a real, live audience.

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A street style star soaking up the attention at Milan Fashion Week, September 2019.

As we reemerge from our homes and back into public life, the uniforms we once counted on might not feel so right. Those jeans you used to rely on for both casual and professional? They might feel a bit off in the cut. The heels that seemed de rigueur for the office? Maybe they’re not so necessary anymore — or there’s a new way to wear them.

It seems inevitable that the era of sweatpants and slippers is on its way out. But what exactly will take its place? As brands hobbled together their collections for the fall ’21 season, echoes of a “roaring twenties” abounded. After the pandemic, the good times will roll, and the fashion will be opulent, they seemed to suggest. But in reality, shoppers aren’t so keen to shed their comfort items just yet. And the deceleration of trends and the fast past of fashion that came with it might not be such a bad thing. It could be the advent of an era in which personal style is prioritized over the algorithmic conformity of the social media trend cycle.

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New York Fashion Week, February 2020.

To navigate this new world of fashion in the coming months, the editors of FN will explore How to Get Dressed Again. From the shoes to wear back to the office to the jeans to swap and the outfits to try out for that first post-vaccination night out or big trip away, the goal is to show new, useful ideas to ease back into the world, to feel and look good while doing it and to rediscover the joys of fashion once again.

Check back here for updates to our How to Get Dressed Again guide.

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