What you need to know

The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy have reversed the expected positive sales trajectory for the clothing category – largely due to store closures, decreased discretionary spending, and fewer reasons to shop for clothes. Consumers’ clothing needs and purchase behaviors have changed as a result, and retailers and brands will need to re-evaluate where and how they engage with them. Recovery is expected to mirror the last recession, remaining repressed for two years before rebounding in 2022. Factors such as when a vaccine becomes available and when the need for new clothes returns (eg consumers attending events, returning to work) will play a role in how quickly the category picks up again. Regardless of when it does, expect to see value playing a larger role in how consumers shop for clothes moving forward.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on consumer behavior and the clothing market

  • The recession’s role in driving consumers toward value-based retailers

  • Consumers’ changing needs and the disruption to traditional selling timeframes

  • How external factors influence the clothes consumers buy


This Report will identify behaviors and preferences among male and female shoppers when shopping for clothing. For the purposes of this Report, Mintel has used the following definitions:

The Report focuses on purchases adult men and women 18+ make for themselves (versus as gifts). Clothing in this Report covers the following categories: jeans, pants/slacks, suits, t-shirts, blouses, sweaters, dresses, skirts, jackets/coats, blazers, shorts, workout clothes (tops and bottoms) and underwear.

Swimwear, sleepwear, hosiery, footwear and accessories are not discussed in this Report but are included in the overall clothing market size. Note that the market size includes all sales of women's and men’s clothing (as opposed to boys, girls, misses, and junior wear), regardless of the purchaser.

This Report builds on the analysis presented in Mintel’s Men’s Clothing – US, April 2018, Women’s Clothing – US, August 2019, July 2017 and May 2015.

COVID-19: market context

The first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the US in January 2020. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global health pandemic, and on March 13, President Trump declared a national emergency in the US.

Across the US, state-level stay-at-home orders rolled out throughout the months of March and April remaining in place through May, and in some cases June. During this time, referred to as lockdown, non-essential businesses and school districts across the nation closed or shifted to remote operations. For the clothing category, the impact was immediate, as most specialty and other stores selling clothing were deemed non-essential and forced to close for weeks. Retailers and brands turned to online shopping, their only mode of commerce during lockdown, to serve customers as best as possible; but other challenges, such as supply issues, logistics and delivery were challenged as many factories and shipping companies were closed or had limited capabilities. Those without strong ecommerce capabilities faced the biggest barriers, but the clothing industry overall suffered as worried consumers scaled back spending on new clothes, especially with nowhere to go.

During re-emergence, all 50 states have relaxed stay-at-home orders and allowed businesses to operate with varying levels of social distancing measures in place. The continued spread of COVID-19 infections has driven some states to slow down or reverse course on reopening plans. Mintel anticipates the US will remain in a state of flux through 2021, until a vaccine is available. The timing of a vaccine will have a particular impact on clothing, because it will signal a return to normalcy, which will allow consumers to resume some events and activities, and give them a reason to buy new clothes.

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