Suits and tailored shirts are out, sweatpants and pajamas are in: remote working is changing work clothes habits, and while vaccines may bring back some formality, old-school office attire should emerge from the pandemic far less starched and strict.
“For the last year, everybody has just been dressed from the waist up, wearing nice shorts for Zoom calls,” quipped stylist Sascha Lilic.
Many workers who have already returned to offices notice a new relaxed vibe.
“I saw someone wearing just their socks when they walked through to get something from another department,” recalled Deanna Narveson, a journalist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“I think I’ve been dressing slightly more casual myself,” added Narveson, who nevertheless makes sure she puts on “real clothes” when working from home.
According to employees at several companies, the casualness has happened by itself without management or HR teams intervening.
“Shorts and T-shirts at the Pentagon was pretty new,” said Matt Triner, boss of IT consulting firm Hunter Strategy, which the US government has contracted to do several projects.
The relaxation of dress codes in the professional world was already under way long before the pandemic, with the tech sector and start-up generation leading the way.
It was even catching on at banks.
“We have had a ‘flexible’ dress code policy for almost two years now, which encourages our people to use their own judgment for what is appropriate to wear for their work day,” said a spokesperson for Goldman Sachs.
The pandemic has seen the trend toward comfort accelerate, though.
“Suits and ties were already going away in IT. The pandemic gave the last hangers-on an excuse to let go,” said Triner.
The trend has been catastrophic for formal menswear companies like Brooks Brothers and the parent company of Men’s Wearhouse, which both declared bankruptcy last year.
New York designer David Hart, a specialist in luxury men’s ready-to-wear items, has taken “a step back” from tailoring from the time being to focus on knitwear, masks, sweaters and polo shirts.
The pandemic will have “lasting consequences” in the way people dress for work, particularly men, according to Lilic.
“The outfit will become more casual. It will still be a suit, but there might be a drawstring waist or elasticated waist,” he said.
Lilic, who has worked with several major fashion houses including Hugo Boss and Elie Saab, predicts more loafers and a lot fewer ties.
“The open collar shirt is going to be great,” he said.
The shift is already visible among fashion brands, which are pushing more and more cotton and linen jackets as well as polo shirts and even simple sneakers.
Workplace looks will become more individualistic, but also respectful of the office environment, Lilic believes.
“It will respect more of your personality,” he said. “But I don’t think it is going to be so impactful on men’s fashion that everybody’s going to turn up in their banking office as a rapper.”
Appearance, and some formality are “still important to some customers”, said Triner, though “as customers get younger, this is changing rapidly”, he added.
“I think the suit will stay but it won’t have the blatant physical effect. It will less [be] something to hide behind,” said Lilic.
For American designer David Hart, “there will be a strong urge for men to start dressing up again” after the pandemic.
“I think that people will start dressing up for themselves and not because they are required to for work,” he said, confident that the rise of men’s fashion will continue.
Hart, whose brand was built on tailored jackets and trousers, even dreams of a post-pandemic world where “suits and ties will become disruptive”.
“The man wearing a suit will be the new rebel,” he said.