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What is cloudwear, fashion’s plush and playful new trend?

By Emma O'Regan-Reidy

Oct 1, 2021

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Cloudwear is a trend to watch as we move out of the summer months and into chillier evenings. The plush term was coined by trend forecaster Agus Panzoni who has gained an ever-growing following of 241,000 on TikTok for her succinct and captivating analyses of what’s to come in the fashion industry. Through her honest, engaging approach to trend forecasting, Panzoni lets her followers know what to keep their eyes on while also championing small, diverse businesses. Recognising the fantastical, unfeasible nature of cloudwear’s unpredictable silhouettes, Panzoni invites her audience to engage with the trend through statement accessories. Examples range from Baggu’s cloud totes to Holzweiler’s puffy scarves.

While the trend has infiltrated Fall/Winter 2021 collections across the board—check out Eckhaus Latta’s quilted skirts and Ottolinger’s padded sandals—what exactly precipitated it?

@thealgorythm

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♬ TROPICAL UPLIFTING MOTIVATIONNAL SUMMER RUN - whitecedar

With the rise of Lululemon and similar brands in the 2010s, athleisure has been around for a while now and it doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere. Forbes Council Member Alison Bringé noted in May 2021 that “although the fashion industry struggled last year, it seems that activewear and athleisure brands flourished more than ever.” With more people spending time indoors and on screens watching their favourite influencers—who more often than not also double as digital personal trainers, take Grace Beverley for example—athleisure has saturated the market and our wardrobes even more so. Bringé stated that currently “more and more people not only spend their time at home exercising […] but also spending their money on clothes that are simply multi-seasonal and multifunctional.”

Cloudwear’s affinity for light, poofy layers and quilted aesthetics fits seamlessly into athleisure’s continued evolution. But as we move further into the 2020s, where is athleisure headed? CR Fashion Book’s Hannah Oh looks to utility-inspired apparel for answers. Clothing influenced by outdoor and military gear, workwear, cargo pants, and more has certainly gained popularity in recent years. While cloudwear seems frivolous compared to the clean lines, square shoulders, and multipurpose functionality of the utility trend, it does have some similarities.

 

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The Spring/Summer 2021 and Fall/Winter 2021 seasons were marked by a “collective celebration of joyful fashion,” as stated in CR Fashion Book. Collections by luxury houses such as Valentino and Balenciaga expressed their elation through larger-than-life silhouettes, puffed sleeves, and structured ball gowns. Chitose Abe of Sacai, guest designer for Jean Paul Gautier’s couture Fall/Winter 2021 season, even took to mixing and matching draped puffer jackets with pinstripe corsets and structured undergarments. The result was a playful interpretation of the utility and athleisure trends’ love of seamless preparedness in a captivating yet largely impractical manner. Oh concludes that in 2021, “fashion seems to be flirting with utility in a way that lives somewhere between practicality and play.” Cloudwear’s fusion of fantasy and reality fits into this analysis harmoniously.

So where does cloudwear fit into our cultural moment? As we’ve collectively emerged from our quarantine cocoons over the past few months, the trend’s comfort factor makes a lot of sense. While we step back out into pre-pandemic routines, most of us aren’t ready to give up the cosiness of home fashion quite yet. As we transition into cosy autumnal apparel, puffer jackets across the nation will be taken out from the backs of closets. But why limit it to just outerwear? Cloudwear invites everyone to incorporate the comfy, padded quilting of their go-to winter coat into other elements of their wardrobe.

The trend’s down-filled apparel could also point to gen Z’s affinity for tactility in their online expression. With trends like deconstructed/reconstructed and Y2K still taking centre stage as we enter the later seasons of 2021, it’s important to recognise their emphasis on irregular closures and fuzzy materials respectively. Though gen Z trends are largely rooted in digital life, their IRL counterparts playfully interpret traditional silhouettes and textures in a way that makes them look great on screens but feel even better offline. Alternatively, Panzoni offers another perspective on why gen Z may gravitate towards tangible trends. She said that “in 2020, we were looking for comfort from an emotional and functional standpoint. In the midst of this, puffy heels and purses started trending. Mildly unpractical, this tactile trend provided emotional comfort in a time when physical connection was at an all-time low.”

As Panzoni mentioned—and her TikTok username, @thealgorythm, cleverly refers to—now, more than ever, fashion trends are influenced and dictated by algorithms and life online. The playful dimensions and inflated textures of classic quilting techniques that are showcased in cloudwear seem intrinsically connected to the internet. Not only do they look whimsical in social media grids, but their sometimes bouncy house-like shapes and iterations are reminiscent of other virtual fashion trends that exist solely online. Though the trend’s wispy name points to ephemerality, cloudwear seems to be here to stay. Panzoni even suggested that “while the FW21 runway welcomed cloudwear, the trend isn’t reserved for colder seasons: it has also appeared in some SS22 runways.” Look forward to bringing your poofy, multifunctional apparel well into the new year with you.