Judging by the photos, it looked as though all of Ireland had turned out for the grand reopening of Penneys stores around the country this month. Footage showed long lines on the way in and arms loaded with bags on the way out, as restless quarantiners were finally let loose on the high street.
After three months at home in leggings and sweatshirts, what were they looking for? A change of scenery? The fleeting comfort of retail therapy? The promise of something new to add to our tired wardrobes? You can get just about anything online, and it's not as if there are special occasions coming up that call for new outfits.
Add to that the queues, masks and frequently closed fitting rooms, it doesn't conjure the most enticing atmosphere for a shopping spree. And yet, Irish shoppers arrived in droves, and have continued to flock to stores in the fortnight since.
So what did they end up buying? The spring-summer catwalks forecast a season of short suits, neon shades and lacy lingerie-inspired dresses. The receipts from the first two weeks' trading, however, tell a different story. We talked to Ireland's shops, big and small, to find out what customers have been clamouring for.
Together, they make up the most enduring ensemble in our wardrobes, so it stands to reason that jeans and t-shirts would be top of our shopping lists. Penneys reports that its denim collection has been really popular in stores over the last couple of weeks, from jeans to jackets.
Denim is notoriously hard to shop online, but smaller boutiques have been able to facilitate the use of fitting rooms for customers to try on new styles. And according to shop owners, it is relaxed shapes rather than skinnies that customers are seeking out. Dublin boutique Seagreen and Gallery 9 in Naas have seen high demand for the Paige Mayslie joggers, as well as the Brigitte boyfriend jeans and high-rise Cindy straight jeans.
T-shirts, meanwhile, have graduated to acceptable workwear in lockdown, and Irish shoppers are swapping their old, threadbare garments for elevated versions, such as Victoria Beckham's painterly face-printed number, French brand Newtone's 70s-inspired graphic tees and Anine Bing's collaboration with photographer Terry O'Neill, featuring his famous image of Brigitte Bardot.
The Zoom phenomenon is having a lasting impact, as many of us sought out dressy tops on our return to stores. "Shoppers are looking for pieces to wear now that make them feel good," says Doranne Hickey of MacBees in Killarney.
Colour is particularly important, and tops in vibrant shades or with eye-catching accents are the bestsellers, including Essentiel Antwerp's floral Varryme frilled-shoulder blouse and Dante 6's fuchsia Serena top with scarf detailing. Deryn Mackay of Khan in Blackrock notes that separates are doing very well, especially playful printed tops from Paul Smith that stand out with a pair of simple cropped trousers.
Havana boutique owner Nikki Creedon adds that Simone Rocha tops with lace and pearl detailing have sold out, while Ulla Johnson's patterned blouses and Stella Jean's offbeat striped shirts are selling well. "They're looking for something nice that's a bit of a step up from the tracksuits we've all been wearing," she says.
Warm weather and garden gatherings call for cool, comfortable dresses, which were the bestsellers at & Other Stories on Grafton Street. Linen frocks are the most popular, especially the puff-sleeve midi in cream floral print and plain black. Shoppers are loving square necklines, a flattering and youthful trend, and & Other Stories' floral crepe dresses with puff shoulders are among the top purchases.
Puff sleeves have been a hit in River Island too, where the biggest seller was its cotton broderie detail shirt dress, along with wedge flatform sandals. COS also reports great sales for garden party pieces, while noting that interest in loungewear has "definitely decreased".
Ailish Mullane of Limerick's Kimono boutique explains that her customers are looking for "pick-me-ups", and seizing on barbecues as an opportunity to get dressed up, shopping colourful styles like Turkish brand Exquise's vivid green and coral midis and Essentiel Antwerp's bubblegum pink polka-dot wrap dress. "That midi look with the runners, that's what they're all going for," she says. "It's all bright colours - they want a lift."
Mary McSweeney, of Galway's Les Jumelles, notes that earlier this year she stocked up on summer dresses from Primrose Park and Hale Bob in anticipation of the Galway races, which are now closed to the public. "Surprisingly enough, they have been selling away," she says. "We've teamed them with our sneakers which has given them a more casual look."
While the Irish love for fast fashion shows no signs of abating, many shoppers are reconsidering their choices and becoming cognisant of the environmental impact of their purchases.
"Being kind to the planet seems to be more important to people now," says Juliana Doyle of Gorey boutique Place, who has observed an increased interest in her shop's sustainable range, with Womsh's apple leather vegan trainers and garments made from organic materials among her top sellers. She also notes that customers are gravitating towards seasonless dressing, building a year-round wardrobe with light cover-ups and long cardigans that can be layered depending on the weather.
The change in attitude also comes down to financial concerns, with lots of consumers having lost work or feeling wary of shelling out in case of an oncoming recession. Clodagh Roche, of Muse in Waterford, explains that her customers are very conscious of spending, so she advises buying well and focusing on quality as well as versatility.
"We've being asking customers to bring in their favourite pieces that they don't wear so we can show them different ways of wearing them," she says, noting that shoppers are opting for staples like Veja trainers, a Bella Dahl denim jacket or mix-and-match jewellery by Maria Black to maximise wearability.
Our working wardrobe may have taken a swing toward the casual, but it appears we can't wait to get dolled up again when summer events slowly start to resume. "Our occasionwear took a complete nosedive [in lockdown]. However, since we got the green light for weddings and events, the phone is ringing and my clients are making appointments," says Kay Mulcaire, owner of Limerick's Isobel and Marc Cain boutiques.
Brown Thomas fashion director Shelly Corkery reports that shoppers have turned away from leisurewear toward more dressy options since stores reopened. "Customers are looking for newness and to dress up again," she says, citing Zimmerman's sunny frocks and Dolce & Gabbana's relaxed floral dresses as the most popular.
In Naas, Gallery 9 has noticed a similar shift, with bestsellers including Victoria Beckham's floral dresses and the Gia x Pernille Teisbaek collection of heeled sandals, which owner Niamh McCoy attributes to shoppers "dreaming of getting back out and getting dressed up again".
Doranne of MacBees notes that wedding season is a key market for Irish brands like Aideen Bodkin, Caroline Kilkenny and FeeG, and now that weddings are gradually being rescheduled, customers are starting to shop their formalwear once more, often browsing online before making the purchase in-store. "Nothing we create online beats the feeling of walking through the doors and seeing all the beautiful summer collections," she says.
Dads haven't had the most fashionable reputation. Indeed, the word 'dad' is typically used as a pejorative, tacked on to indicate that what is being described is dowdy, embarrassing and uncool. Consider: dad jokes, dad bod, dad dancing and so on.