Too cool for the pool … holidaywear brings summer to the city

Terry towelling, the absorbent towel-like fabric synonymous both with 1950s poolside glamour – thanks to Emilio Pucci – and 1970s Bognor Regis bonhomie – thanks to Butlin’s – is back. It can be found everywhere this summer, from cult Spanish brand La Veste to Gap to Balenciaga, and is even being used in lingerie – Rihanna recently took to Twitter to post a video of herself in lime-green terry undies.

But terry towelling is just one tiny, practical cog in the broader moment for all things holiday style. Where gorpcore, a term coined in 2017 by fashion website The Cut, described city slickers dressing in the utilitarian clothes of long-distance hikers, what we could call “holidaycore” sees beach kaftans reinvented for city streets, and tangy sun-lounger stripes finding their way on to dresses and bucket hats worn in town. It sees the sort of pieces that scream tropical island jollies, such as crochet tops and basket bags, à la Talented Mr Ripley or Jane Birkin, peppering UK parks.

According to shopping platform Lyst, there has been a 192% increase in searches for beachwear this summer compared with the same period in 2020. The beach aesthetic has, according to Lyst’s Morgane Le Caer, “recently been taking over social media platforms such as TikTok” and now, she says, “it is also shaping up fashion searches”.

In normal summers, of course, it would not be worth mentioning that holidaywear is doing well during the summer holidays. But this year, with travel outside the UK more complicated than a cryptic crossword, it says something about the way we are choosing to dress even while at home.

“I think we’re all looking at alternatives to our usual summer holidays, which have been restricted this year. So trying to embrace and wear at home or to a friend’s house things we would maybe normally save for a holiday seems like a good idea,” says Mona Ghafoori, the founder of Tort, a London-based company that makes colourful eco-resin versions of the plastic “tortoiseshell” hair accessories often to be found in beachside souvenir shops.

Two summers ago, these kind of accessories might have been worn with pride on a return to daily life while there was still sand between your toes. Not now. “There’s something about clipping your hair up in a hair claw that’s very holiday,” says Ghafoori. She says the brand received many messages during lockdown from people saying how much a new clip lifts their mood: “They’ve almost become that holiday accessory you can wear all year round.”

It makes sense. During a year in which people have decorated their houses with palm prints and planned holidays on Pinterest – creating boards full of places they hoped to visit on future trips – clothes have become another way to psychologically transport ourselves.

“Many people are craving their pre-pandemic lifestyles,” says fashion psychologist Shakaila Forbes-Bell. “As such, they have begun utilising their wardrobes as a tool not only to experience escapism but also to regain a sense of normalcy. You may not be able to hop on a plane and unwind on a beach … but you can … [dress] the part to amplify the experience of your staycation.”

There is, she says, science behind it: “studies have shown that outlandish dressing or simply dressing in a way that is outside of your day-to-day can carry a tension-release dimension.”

For fashion historian Tony Glenville, “childhood memories, and security in the staples of the childhood beach wardrobe” are symbolised by these beach-ready garments. Perhaps, as with terry towelling, it might be “pieces we recognise in difficult times from old family photographs and which conjure up memories”.

Another factor encouraging this sudden spike in bikini tops on city streets is, of course, the television behemoth of summer: Love Island. Watching people in trunks and bikinis flirt on beanbags under a Spanish sun is bound to sink into the national psyche and leave people wanting to flaunt an “underboob” or wear short shorts, even if just to their local supermarket.

“Much as in the way Bridgerton inspired many to adopt ‘royalcore’ aesthetics,” Forbes-Bell says, “shows like Love Island will undoubtedly influence consumer behaviour, with holiday-style dressing gaining appeal despite restrictions on mass tourism.”

Glenville is all for dressing for jollies, even at home: “If holidays are difficult but it’s sunny, just wear ’em wherever and whenever. Fashion isn’t in a place to dictate; the consumer is. If they want holiday and they want to wear it now, so be it!”