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Before we go back to the office, we wind up back in our closets, scrounging for something appropriate to wear to work.
Some of us are perplexed.
For more than a year we’ve dressed for Zoom – decent (maybe) on top and anything-goes on the bottom. A business-like blouse over yoga pants. Sport shirt and gym shorts. That nice, navy blazer with pajama pants. Now we’re about to be seen more fully.
Have the rules changed? Does comfort count? Do I have to wear shoes? We have questions.
And there’s no shortage of answers.
The Wall Street Journal says flatly, “The rules about what to wear to the office are gone.”
Sales of work clothes are definitely increasing, but what constitutes a work wardrobe has just as definitely changed.
Retailers are doing their best to figure out what we want and deliver it. Here’s a hint: 39% of women and 58% of men say they will be dressing more comfortably from here on out.
There are some suit-and-tie holdouts, especially in fields like finance and law. For the most part, though, companies are allowing more leeway in what we wear to work. Gym clothes – still inappropriate. But office clothing is definitely taking on some of that workout-wear feel.
At Banana Republic they call it “hybrid dressing.” Even Brooks Brothers is deemphasizing its classic conservative suits and highlighting loose, deconstructed jackets. Their CEO says the post-pandemic styles “look like suits, but aren’t.”
Personal stylists are fielding questions from nervous clients. One told the Washington Post they include: “I just don’t know if that still fits. What am I going to do? Does that style still work? Is this dated? I’m a year and a half older now.”
Stay-at-home weight gain has become a cliché; men and women both are finding their former work wardrobes don’t quite fit the way they used to. Their WFH clothes were a lot more forgiving of those extra pounds than the tailored pants and jackets they used to wear.
And some people are finding their taste has changed. They like bolder colors now than they were used to back when they went to the office every day. And they don’t want to go back to wearing nothing but navy blue, black and gray.
So, what will we wear?
At the New York Times, style expert Vanessa Friedman answers questions from anxious readers worried about what not to wear as they return to the workplace.
She says we can dress it up a bit without going back to pre-pandemic discomfort.
“It’s worth preserving some of the qualities we learned to appreciate in clothing during the pandemic, especially comfort, but in elevated materials. Instead of leggings and sweats, think jersey, silk, georgette, crepe and crisp cotton.”
And there seems to be a FAQ from women. “Um, do I really have to wear a bra again?” Seriously. Some quit wearing bras altogether while they were working at their kitchen tables.
Sales data suggests that many more kept wearing a bra but ditched that miserable underwire. And some definitely don’t want it back. Friedman says women want comfort and confidence from their bras now. They’re done with constraint.
Wireless and pullover bras were gaining market-share anyway and now they’re even bigger sellers. And something called a bralette is all the rage.
Bralettes are softer, lighter weight, and of course wireless. They’re also a lot easier and cheaper to make, so it’s not surprising that lingerie manufacturers love them.
The brand president at Aerie summed up the trend for NYT. “It’s less about perky and more about being comfortable. Women don’t want to be harnessed anymore.”
My two cents’ worth.
Comfort? Confidence? I’m all for both. Flexibility is fabulous. It’s wonderful to have more choices. Grown people ought to be able to dress themselves without strict rules dictating what they put on every morning.
And. What we wear makes a statement to everyone who sees us at the office or on a Zoom screen for that matter.
It’s not a bad idea to think about what statement we’re making.
I’ve had clients accuse me of being stodgy or old-fashioned when it comes to these wardrobe questions. Maybe they’re right.
I discourage a focus on what they can get away with. And yes, in Professional Presence workshops, I do hear people talk that way about their business casual dress code and just how casual their dress can be.
A better way to ponder what to wear is this. How do I want my colleagues to perceive me? What about the higher-ups? And to the extent my work involves clients or customers, what impression do I want to make on them?
In general, going for a little more polish will serve us well.
No, most of us aren’t going to be wearing a three-piece suit to work. Or even a two-piece suit.
Flat shoes are replacing high heels for comfort-minded women. Both men and women are wearing sneakers sometimes.
Women who always wore skirts are going for pants instead. Most men don’t put on a tie for work anymore. And many never tuck in a shirt.
I’ve been working at home for a long time. I still dress for work. Not fancy-pants, but whether you see me in person or on a screen, you’ll see someone who put some effort into getting ready. I think it’s worth every bit of that effort to look polished and put-together. More professional.
And you? Are you going more casual now? Post a comment and fill us in.