KX Quarterly commissioned fashion photographer Dean Martindale to capture people in King’s Cross who take their comfort as seriously as their work
Dressing in the morning used to be about shedding your strictly behind-closed-doors clothes and donning your public-facing look. How times have changed. Just look around you: at a coffee shop, where a girl in a pair of leggings and trainers orders her morning flat white; the gym where a guy’s workout gear might just double as his date outfit; the Tube, where some poor commuter is overheating in a duvet coat; or the office where you might just see colleagues in a pyjama blouse at your morning meeting. Today, smart and besuited simply looks like trying too hard. Looking comfortable — hell, being comfortable — has never been so fashionable.
It is tempting to link the appeal of dressing in our pyjamas and enveloping ourselves in duvet coats with the tumultuous political climate of the last 18 months. However, comfort dressing predates Brexit, Trump, Bowie, Prince and all the other horrors of recent times. Pyjamas were on the runway at Louis Vuitton in 2013. There was a duvet coat in the H&M Å~ Maison Martin Margiela collection back in 2012. Tracksuits, hoodies and T-shirts, meanwhile, have been threatening to become high fashion for the past decade thanks to taste-making brands including Givenchy, Chloé and Saint Laurent.
The rise in comfort dressing stems from a number of long-game factors, one of which is changes to our lifestyles. The number of people working from home, for example, has soared in recent years, with one in 16 people doing so in 2016, an increase of almost eight percent from the previous year. This way of working, of course, comes with the temptation to stay in your actual pyjamas all day, but it also has a trickle-down effect in fashion. Thinking about a new lifestyle trend gets fashion designers musing on how to cater to it. All these homeworkers — or the idea of them anyway — will no doubt have had a hand in pyjamas and robes making their way down the catwalk.
These are, to be clear, fashion pyjamas, not the fleecy kind your nan might buy you for Christmas that you style with unicorn slippers. Instead, think silky, wide-legged and printed. This is Marlene Dietrich, louche glamour vibes, but for the digital generation. Gigi Hadid wears hers with high-heeled sandals (Gucci furry loafers are also acceptable). Italian street-style star, Chiara Ferragni, adds a blow dry. But it’s not just models and celebrities who have adopted the look. With pyjama styles everywhere from Boohoo to Balmain, duvet day dressing has gone mainstream.
The popularity of streetwear has undoubtedly contributed to the rise of comfort dressing too, as the loosened-up shapes that typify this aesthetic (big T-shirts, loose sweatpants) gained traction on the catwalk. See Louis Vuitton Å~ Supreme, Riccardo Tisci’s work for Givenchy and brands like Palace and Off-White gaining cult followings. With this scene now part of the wider fashion world, the idea of haute sweatpants — or certainly ones that cost three figures — has become accepted, and so has the comfort dressing silhouette. As if to confirm the new blue chip status of the streetwear look, Supreme was valued at $1bn in October, and procured investment from private equity firm The Carlyle Group. Not bad for a company that started with T-shirts and skateboards.
Once upon a time, the success stories we aspired to tended to come trussed up in a suit: Jordan Belfort, Warren Buffet, even Donald Trump. How times have changed. The men of Silicon Valley who shape the digital world we live in (because they typically are men) today dress casually. Google’s Sundar Pichai prefers a Merino wool jumper. Evan Spiegel of Snapchat is a big fan of a white V-neck T-shirt. Steve Jobs famously wore the black polo neck. And Mark Zuckerberg, a man who is worth over $70bn, has a uniform of grey T-shirts, hoodies and jeans. Speaking about his style in 2014, Zuckerberg said he always wears the same thing to minimise unnecessary decision- making, “I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.” Wearing clothes that are comfortable and anonymous is now the ultimate humblebrag. It’s code for I am an extremely successful and busy person. Who doesn’t want to broadcast that message to the world, especially if you can do it walking around in sweatpants?
Zuckerberg’s look, whether he likes it or not, is the sweet spot where two trends in modern fashion meet: Athleisure and Normcore. Athleisure, as it’s portmanteau suggests, is a fusion of athletic and non-athletic in one outfit — clothing you can wear to the gym and out of it. This market is now huge, with labels such as Lululemon, Beyonce’s Ivy Park and Outdoor Voices all places to buy the leggings, vests and hoodies that feel good whether you’re in yoga class or pretending you’re on your way to yoga class. The sector is booming with the market up eight percent this year.
Then there is Normcore. If the Athleisure trend is about aspiring to the wellness lifestyle of green juices, no makeup selfies and #blessed captions, Normcore is anti-fashion anonymity in a knowing way. With the term coined in 2014 by trend forecasting agency K-Hole, it swiftly went viral with New York magazine dubbing it “Fashion for Those Who Realise They’re One in 7 Billion”. They noted the clothes tourists in Times Square might wear — sweatpants, chambray shirts, baseball caps, trainers — as part of the look. The icons for this movement? Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David and Steve Jobs — alpha men who found a formula that was comfortable and stuck with it.
Of course, with this Venn diagram all adding up to comfort as the accepted dress code for our era, the trend is living on borrowed time. The very life-blood of fashion is to challenge and reinvent the status quo. For proof, see the recent return of tailoring to the catwalks of Balenciaga, Martine Rose, Céline and Calvin Klein.
Instagram favourites like Zendaya and Kendall Jenner are even stepping out in trouser suits rather than tracksuits. So, enjoy going to work in your sweatpants while it lasts, smartening-up is due a comeback any day now.
This article first appeared in the winter 2017 edition of King’s Cross Quarterly magazine. Read more about the people and stories that make King’s Cross, or find out where you can pick up the latest copy of King’s Cross Quarterly below.