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100 years of comfort clothes coming out of the closet

100 years of comfort clothes coming out of the closet

| Text: Bengt Östling Östling, Photo: Cata Portin

A current exhibition at the Helsinki Design Museum showcases the Finnish clothing company Nanso and the 100 years-old history of their everyday fashion. The theme is “The Comfort Revolution” – how comfort and wellbeing has steered fashion’s evolution towards today’s Corona fashion.

Nanso has not needed to change their production. It jumps on the Corona trend of joggers and loungewear and benefits from the fact that less formal dress codes match the company’s products.

To begin with, Nanso made under and night garments, and now these have become part of the daily fashion known as loungewear. The T-shirt has gone from being an undergarment to the world’s most popular piece of clothing. It is a symbol of revolt, freedom and feminism as well as hippie and pop culture, explained Liisa Jokinen, the curator for the current exhibition, and Nanso’s chief designer Noora Niinikoski during the opening.  

The garments have not changed much. But consumers are getting quicker at jumping on new trends. The simple, informal garments from Nanso are now being used both as work and party clothes.

Liisa Jokinen points to how undergarments have become public – and a megaphone for an independent attitude. She has been living in New York since 2017, where she runs Gem – a search app for all online vintage.

Liisa Jokinen

She is also a style photographer. The phenomenon can be clearly seen there. A pyjama on the street is no longer that unusual, as people nowadays decide what they wear themselves. 

Which direction? Everyone decides for themselves

Noora Niinikoski says that Nanso has become known as the company making soft nightwear. So can you still use them as a summer outfit on the beach? Of course, that is up to the individual! 

Liisa Jokinen agrees. The fact that everyone can decide for themselves is what makes fashion exciting. The main point is that the garment feels comfortable. She also points out another fashion phenomenon: Clothes are getting increasingly emotional, like good friends. You want to keep them close and in good nick, to keep the friendship going by following the maintenance and washing advice. 

The ideal is to have a wardrobe full of favourites and friends – no unnecessary or unwanted clothes.

Noora Niinikoski explains how she is trend-spotting for clothes in workplaces. She sits down in a company’s canteen and studies what employees wear. This gives her many ideas for Nanso too.

Formal workwear has changed. Today you can wear comfortable clothes at work. Jobs have changed too, of course, but office-based work is still predominantly sitting on a chair. 

The Nanso exhibition shows flower-patterned clothes in gentle colours, but Liisa Jokinen believes her favourite garment could be this autumn’s trend: neon-coloured happy pants. 

You can combine sequins and joggers

But what comes next – will the comfort of working from home remain the trend? Liisa Jokinen believes you can combine comfort and party clothes. There is a desire to dress up again, in sparkles and sequins or at least luxurious joggers and high heels. 

Fashion shop

The luxury sales have not fallen during the pandemic, explains Liisa Jokinen, pointing to New York street fashion. As things get back to normal, people want to dress up, both in a fun and in a pretty way. But you can still combine this with comfort clothes.

There is also an opening for sustainability and economics in this kind of fashion, according to the principle of “buy nothing, save and re-use”. Post-pandemic, we could see hybrid solutions in clothes just like in the way we will be working – sometimes in the office, sometimes at home. Liisa Jokinen is nevertheless a bit cynical about the transition. She is convinced we are moving towards sustainable fashion consumption, but that it will take time. 

A fashion mystery

There will be no going back to old dress codes and old fashion believes Liisa Jokinen. Dress codes are already softening. Some employers had casual Friday, others had already come to a point where only Fridays were formal.

“Fashion is a funny mystery, nobody knows exactly where the signals are coming from. That is what is so exciting with trends and fashion. You cannot explain where it comes from.”

The world of fashion also lost some of its ability to evolve as international fashion weeks were cancelled because of the pandemic. This eased some of the pressure on creating fresh collections several times a year. It gives creators of clothes the chance to move away from the short fashion cycles.

You show little at a time and not too much so that you can easily pull it back if it became necessary to isolate again for instance. This helps reduce losses in clothes shops where old fashion must be thrown out. 

There’s no longer one global trend, says Liisa Jokinen. Fashion does not develop in isolation from the rest of society. Many phenomena have an effect, and right now it is the Corona pandemic.

“But there are many types of trends and they overlap. That is so liberating, you don’t have to care and just choose the trend you like yourself.”


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