WFH Ballgowns, Tropical Prints, and Big Sleeves: The Surprising Trends People Are Renting Right Now

by Freya Drohan

If you’ve heard once about how our fashion needs have shifted in 2020, you’ve heard it ten thousand times. But wait—perhaps that’s not actually a bad thing.

Blaire Walsh, Rent The Runway’s style director and resident trend forecaster, explained how the extra time we had at home as a result of lockdown has brought some interesting, and rather unexpected, fashion habits to the fore.

Case in point: the rise of work from home ballgowns. Walsh laughs when she says that while some of us were opting to cozy up in our loungewear or Lululemons back in March/April, the maximalists in our midst were opting to field conference calls in Marchesa and Monique Lhuillier.

At an uncertain and daunting time, it proved as an example to the Rent The Runway team about how fashion can still be humorous—not to mention, it made for some great social media moments.

That ‘YOLO’ theme seemed to continue in the ensuing months too, as people turned their back on pajamas and opted to up the ante with tropical printed pieces by brands like Farm Rio, Carolina K, MISA Los Angeles, and Borgo de Nor.

In particular, Walsh pointed to Mara Hoffman’s island-ready Leila dress, which she reckons she’s essentially seen on every member at this stage. And while we can’t exactly switch on our OOO and hotfoot it to Hawaii right now, novelty tourist-style vacation shirts are also having something of a—surprising—moment. Your dad would be proud.

As for what the other pieces and styles Walsh has seen interest in across the board, it points to the fact that members have been more experimental than ever. Rent The Runway analyzes customer data every single day to understand attitude shifts and emerging trends, and they’ve noticed a huge surge in demand for fun and vibrant colors and silhouettes.

This time last year, office-appropriate brands like Veronica Beard, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Ted Baker reigned supreme. These days, members are being tempted by emerging designers like Cecile Bahnsen (whose ethereal cloud-like babydoll dresses need no introduction), as well as roomier garments by Rosie Assoulin, and bohemian-leaning blouses, jumpsuits, and frocks by Ulla Johnson.

Saturated colors like tangerine, lime, and tomato red are now also considered ‘top performers’, while voluminous sleeves have been ultra-popular; further cementing the very real phenomenon of Zoom-ready clothes.

“We’re seeing our girl shift away from athleisure and matching sweatsuits, towards happy hour-appropriate slip dresses or ‘one and done’ pieces like super stylish and comfy dresses for the house or a socially distanced garden party,” Walsh agrees.

As the mercury starts to drop and customers’ needs will once again change, Rent The Runway is anticipating certain categories to attract attention including cardigans, fashion-forward but approachable faux leather separates, mock necklines, and cognac leather bags. In terms of evening wear, with uncertainty still surrounding the likelihoods of parties and events, the team shifted their buy, but will still have plenty to offer in terms of velvet, metallics, and moody florals.

After all, what they call “daytime fancy”—subtle cocktail dresses by labels like Badgley Mischka and Shoshanna—have still been super popular during lockdown, so they’re confident that there’s demand for more extravagant fashions, no matter what our social calendars may look like.

The company has also recently signed up to Aurora James’ 15 Percent Pledge initiative, committing to more representation of black-owned businesses. As part of this pledge, Rent The Runway will donate $1 million to support black designers; providing resources, financial support, and advice.

Among the newest editions to its current 650 brand offering are Pyer Moss, Autumn Adeigbo—whose ethical designs are inspired by her Nigerian mother—Victor Glemaud, and Kahindo. Although a word to the wise: some of the latter’s African-influenced designs are already booked out for months!

So don’t sleep on these new brands and trends, you heard it here first.

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