Blame global warming, Instagram or the spring runways: Resortwear has never been hotter. The category is exploding, say analysts, and vacation-minded shoppers are more likely to pay full price. How the art of lusting for a beachy holiday is powering retail
by: Rebecca Malinsky
How many swimsuits make for the perfect summer vacation? What about floral dresses and straw hats? A scroll through Net-A-Porter or Instagram this time of year might make you feel lacking—despite the 15 maillots you own that have yet to see sand.
Shopping for a vacation is part anti-cubicle fantasia...and part personality disorder. Marketing director Elizabeth Fuller, 31, bought a pile of bright linen dresses last year before a trip to Ibiza to celebrate her wedding anniversary—outfits she said she would never wear at home. “There is a very specific series of habits that I don’t apply to any other aspects of my wardrobe except when I’m shopping for a trip,” she says. “It’s like I’m this completely brand-new person who spends reckless amounts of money to become someone else on vacation.”
After recently booking a summer trip to Tremezzo, Italy, I found myself spending an inappropriate amount of time researching swimsuits, flowy dresses and flat, cobblestone-friendly sandals. Never mind that I have a closet full of these items. Something about a new trip on the horizon made me want new everything. Friends and colleagues have assured me they do the same. Vacation is partially about decompression, but it’s also about living out a fantasy life; fashion helps us get into character.
According to retail analytics firm Edited, the high summer (May to August) luxury category increased in volume on U.S. e-commerce sites 10% from 2017 to 2018 with a 40% increase in luxury caftans and swim cover-ups on offer. Surfing the resort wave into this year, the spring 2019 runways were a parade of in-your-face destination-wear, like tie-dye tees and sarong-like silks at Chloe, or the actual sandy beach and barefoot models at Chanel. Etro is producing and selling the surfboards their models carried during their Milan show; Tory Burch’s layered caftans were a New York Fashion Week standout.
Off the runway, luxury brands are reaching their clientele wherever they may be summering. Loewe continues its collaboration with the local boutique Paula’s Ibiza, meant to “evoke the cathartic abandon” of a summer getaway, and Christian Dior is expanding its beachwear pop-up program Dioriviera from one location to five—now including Mykonos and Porto Cervo, Sardinia. Net-a-Porter even has a program in which a personal shopper will pick and pack a full vacation wardrobe (sunscreen included) and have it shipped to your final destination.
Elizabeth von der Goltz, the company’s global buying director says it is aggressively invested in the resortwear category. It’s annual Jet-a-Porter program, which this year will offer 59 exclusive capsule collections by brands like Eres and Zimmermann, was created in response to their customer, who they say travels an average of 11 times per year. The program has beaten sales estimates annually since it’s launch in 2017. “For us, it’s truly a full-price business because we don’t mark down the product at the times you would expect us to,” says Ms. von der Goltz, of the resilience of resortwear. Edited’s market research echoes this trend: markdowns decreased in the category from 2017 to 2018, but wares on offer went up.
“Seasonality is becoming a bit more blurred in fashion,” says firm analyst Kayla Marci, describing resortwear’s increased influence among retailers. “Flights are getting cheaper—and of course people want to look their best on holiday when they share on Instagram what they’re wearing and what they’re doing.”
San Francisco–based marketing manager Sarah Carnabuci says her packing lists are heavily Instagram-influenced. “Obviously we all go on vacation to relax,” the 32-year-old says, “but we take these photos in amazing places and you want to look and feel a certain way. You don’t want to be in a ratty old beach cover-up on your beautiful vacation.”
Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle and e-commerce site, has created an entire retail concept around an effortlessly casual wardrobe that can go (and ‘gram) from Beverly Hills to Waikiki. Swim accounts for nearly a fifth of Goop’s total fashion business during its summer season, says the company’s SVP of fashion, Shaun Kearney. It can also be built-in marketing for Goop: “Who doesn’t want to look good while they’re travelling?” Mr. Kearney says. “On destination vacations you’re more likely to be in photographs and sharing your best pictures on social platforms. People are really willing to splurge a bit, and I think that’s the reason we can expect more regular-price [purchases] in this category.” (Ms. Paltrow Instagrammed herself in a white bikini in the Maldives late last year.)
Net-a-Porter’s Ms. von der Goltz agrees. “Now with social media, everything is out there,” she says. “If you like taking pictures, and you are in a beautiful location you want to look the part...with different swimwear and different dresses for different holidays.”
All those varied outfits still need to fit in your luggage. Designer Tory Burch’s collections, almost always inspired by a romantic notion of travel, are intended to pack down and transport with ease, she says. “When you think about travelling, you think about clothing that will travel well,” Ms. Burch says (though she herself still hasn’t figured out how to be carry-on only.) Her brand launched a #destinationanywhere campaign this spring meant to encourage exploration in the clothes; using the tag, brand loyalists can search and compile the posts on their feeds. But of the fantasy of resortwear shopping, she says, is all “about dreaming and getting into the mindset. Vacations are so short—and it extends that euphoria.”