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10 Beauty and Style Changes to Expect in 2021

A more relaxed way of dressing is here to stay

spinner image A woman putting on sneakers in bedroom
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It’s a new year and we’re asking new questions. Is this the end of Spanx, high heels and tailored pants? Should I become a DIY pro at color, mani-pedis and facials, and forget going to salons? If I work from home should I donate my old work clothes? I don’t have a crystal ball, but as a longtime beauty and fashion editor, my instincts say the pandemic of 2020 will influence what we wear and how we look way into 2021 and beyond. Here are 10 things that may be the “new normal” for us all.

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1. Rethinking how and where we shop

No more strolling through department stores, leisurely trying on shoes and testing makeup. The pandemic has turned online shopping into a lifestyle essential as malls close, brands file for bankruptcy and retailers shift their business from brick-and-mortar shops to websites — permanently. Listen, it’s a good thing — and for so many reasons. Shopping online is fast; the “stores” are open 24/7; and you don’t have to get in line to pay, hunt for a salesperson or find a parking spot. And there’s no need to social distance or wear a mask. You can shop for a bra at 2 a.m. in your pjs, read reviews of those Sweaty Betty leggings before splurging, and find your favorite jeans on sale. We’ve learned to love the daily avalanche of sales, markdowns and discount codes. 

2. Opting for relaxed clothes

Our idea of basic clothing has changed, too. After months at home in sweats, anything too structured (like a tailored pencil skirt or sheath dress) seems off. We’ve learned to mix tailored pants with sporty tops, as well as silky tops with joggers and cargos for a new polished and pulled-together style that feels right in 2021. So, if you haven’t added leather-look leggings, performance-fabric ankle pants, drop-shoulder sweaters, long cardigans and stylish sweatshirts to your closet, what are you waiting for? Hang on to your pantsuits and blazers. Worn with relaxed tees and sneakers, they’re all you need to dress up or look businesslike. And let’s not forget our new number 1 accessory: masks! Collect those in colors, designs and prints to perk up your face and accent our style in public. They’re here to stay.

3. Accepting our bodies as they are

Good news: Living in elastic waistbands means we no longer stand in front of the mirror and “suck it in.” We’ve lowered our expectations a little and raised our body positivity a lot this year. This is what allowed us to binge guilt-free on banana bread and balance it all out with sit-ups and Pilates in front of the TV. We’re not so terribly size conscious and are sort of glad that XS-S-M-L-XL-XXL has for the most part replaced more specific numbers on the tags that used to drive us crazy. We’ve accepted a more fluid way of dressing in looser, freer clothes so every bump, bulge and ripple is not a big deal. Oddly enough, while healthy eating and exercise are now even higher on our to-do list, we’re not so tough on ourselves. Nice, right?

4.  Wearing comfy underclothes and loungewear

How did we ever get conned into thongs, push-up bras and shapewear? We don’t mind a little extra tummy control in our leggings, but the struggle of wriggling into compression panties or bike shorts just feels so retro now. Sports bras, bralettes, briefs and boy shorts have become everyday lingerie staples. Pantyhose are history thanks to more pants-wearing, longer midi hemlines and boots. But socks are thriving in what has become the sneaker era. Who doesn’t have a drawer full of no-show styles, liners, crops with tab backs and cozy ankle socks that sub for slippers? And now we have loungewear! This COVID-era marketing idea to boost fashion sales (sorry, it is what it is) is here for those who like clear boundaries between sleep, indoor and outdoor clothes. Take your pick — from roomy, midi-length nap dresses to cuddly jumpsuits and wide-leg “home” pants. Home alone was never so chic.   

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5.  Embracing a less-than-perfect look

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Remember when looking “salon-perfect” with sleek blow-drys and monthly color touch-ups was routine? So, gone. We’re opting for more DIY fixes with hot-air styling brushes, at-home mani-pedis and bathroom facials. Updated hair accessories like scrunchies, barrettes, claw clips and headbands have arrived to give hair a fashionable look while camouflaging roots, bedhead, scraggly ends and growing out bangs. Many of us are either embracing our natural texture, going silvery or opting for low-maintenance salon color like balayage. Also on the back burner are pricey high-maintenance services such as acrylic nails, spray tans and bikini waxes that rely on a pro application. Even with the new safety protocols many women are staying away. Anything that circulates recycled air — from blow-dryers to nail-drying fans — makes us worry. Still.  

6. Choosing clean and green products 

Between eco-friendly clothing and clean beauty, we all seem to be swerving toward anything perceived as natural, organic, green, vegan, clean or sustainably made. We want to know exactly what goes into the hair, skin and makeup items we use — and what’s being left out. We like the idea of products coming in biodegradable or recyclable packaging, seeing that suspected or toxic ingredients are not in the ingredient list, and choosing faux leather and suede instead of the real stuff. We’re also getting into upcycled brands (especially jeans) that use clothing made from preexisting clothes, brands that use recycled plastic in their fibers, and online resale shops. It’s the new feel-good healthy fashion choice — like choosing low-sodium, low-sugar salad dressing. 

7.  Embracing an age-positive attitude

We’re pivoting from glam to genuine as our priorities evolve. We are buying hybrid sunscreen/makeups, moisturizing hand sanitizers, facial massage tools and creams, bath salts, and anything that claims to fatten thinning hair — from gummies to supplements and serums. Although eye makeup is surging now thanks to mask-wearing, we won’t ever test formulas or swatch makeup shades from communal testers for any kind of makeup again. But expect new virtual try-ons and sampling options as companies race to solve this for later on in 2021. Looking good at 50, 60, 70-plus is always going to be a goal for us, but we seem to be trending toward a more casual and healthy aesthetic. In my opinion (and I’m not alone here) a perfectly Botoxed, surgically enhanced and filled face doesn’t exactly help us connect on a human level — for that we need faces that move, laugh lines, eye crinkles and the ability to arch and lift our brows. Now that we’re getting more body positive, expect an age-positive shift in aging and skin care. Wellness and health — not perfection or a youthful look — will be the focus. Let’s remind ourselves daily: Skin cancer is the enemy, not wrinkles.

8. Living with less stuff

spinner image A woman tosses a piece of clothing while sorting through clothes in bedroom
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The consumer gallop has turned into a slow walk. What were we doing with all those beauty products, trendy clothes, designer knockoffs and high heels? During lockdown most of us did a closet cleanup. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to try on, take stock, and reset and rethink our past, present and future. Anything that was too small, too flashy, too uncomfortable, too dated, too baggy, shapeless or boxy got tossed in the outgoing pile. We trashed old makeup, skin-care jars and tubes past their due date, leftover shampoos and perfumes from who knows when. And when we were done, we either breathed a congratulatory sigh of relief and resisted undoing the trash bags or felt cleansed by the purge and wondered why we had waited so long. We found out this year we can happily live with a lot less stuff.

9. Feeling the urge to not splurge 

Gucci! Louis Vuitton! Prada! We used to covet logos — the more the merrier. Designer clothes and flashy brands were status symbols that assured those around us (and maybe us, too) that we were knowing, successful and chic as hell. Well, not anymore. There’s a kind of reverse snobbism going on in 2021 with sports brands like Nike, Lululemon and Fabletics and low-cost no-name “finds” stealing the show. We’re all being a lot more thoughtful before hitting “add to cart.” The focus has shifted to paying rent or mortgages, cooking, home goods and accumulating our savings from high-price clothes and accessories. I think most women agree that buying $700 sneakers, $600 sunglasses and a $2,000 bag is pretty ridiculous. Fashion fans who still want big-label designer duds are better off buying them on a consignment resale site; you’ll be helping the planet and saving your AmEx bill.

10. Sporting comfort shoes for all

Let’s be realistic. Our dress shoes — the ones we wore for work, parties and evenings — have not been out of the closet for a year. Even our low- or chunky-heel pumps and boots and ballet flats with hard leather soles have been snoozing. Miss them? Our bunions, hammertoes, heel spurs, plantar fasciitis and corns sure don’t! 2020 was definitely a year for sneakers, clogs, chunky lug soles, shearling-lined booties and slippers, as comfy became the new cool. Now as we slowly creep toward a public lifestyle, don’t ever expect a surge back to high heels.  

My final word: While most industry experts are pretty cloudy about the future of fashion and beauty, one thing’s for sure. We’re the generation that has lived through much change, many trends and innovations. Who invented the whole boho thing — minis, tie-dye, midi skirts, embroidered tunics and frayed jeans? That was us. Luxury goods? Us, too. If we couldn’t buy the clothes, we bought the perfume and the scarf. Minimalism? Who do you think encouraged Donna and Calvin to give us subtle colors like taupe and gray? We made Lycra and spandex the real fashion success story of the century. Athleisure and sports, lingerie and jeans manufacturers — you can thank us any time. Now we’ve decided comfort and common sense are the way forward. Let’s stick to it. 

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