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What Clothes Will Suit the Post-Pandemic Office?


For most, donning a suit in the morning before work is a distant memory. We’ve familiarised ourselves with the comfortable work-from-home alternatives over the past year, and changing back into the power suit doesn’t appeal to everyone.

However, with the global vaccine rollout and growing whispers of a return to normality (we’re keeping our fingers crossed), how will our love for comfort-dressing transfer into the office?

Cast your mind back to the pre-pandemic office, and you’ll remember that strict dress codes had been loosening for some time. Even in investment banks, where designer suits are ubiquitous, the traditional formality was on the decline.

In 2019, Goldman Sachs’ relaxed their dress code to something more flexible, allowing employees to use their judgement as to what to wear, and the announcement was such a shock that it hit the headlines.

Lots of companies were following suit – in early 2020, 62% of US companies allowed casual dress at least once a week and 36% allowed it every day, compared to 19% allowing casual dress every day in 2014.

A slower version of this trend had also been seen in Asia, where ‘corporate culture remains somewhat hierarchical’ but increasingly accepting of more casual office wear.

But then, the pandemic hit, and dressing down for working from home became the norm. Loungewear has become the outfit du jour, with more formal attire being pushed to the back of our wardrobes.

The fashion industry has had to adapt to this, with demand skyrocketing for clothes that are comfortable, yet suitable for video meetings (or just comfortable, the choice is yours). In fact, following the surge in demand, ‘the global loungewear market is estimated to generate 37.7 billion dollars in retail sales in 2021’.

With this in mind, will we be reluctant to leave our comfortable clothes at home when we return to the office? Generally, yes. Although it’s very unlikely that we’ll see people in the office wearing the loungewear they would at home (but, again, that’s up to you), a compromise of more comfortable office-appropriate clothing seems to be the way forward.

This is not just a prediction for European or American offices, as Vogue India reported in 2020 that casual wear is here to stay, especially amongst under-25s.

Upon the return of the commute to work, we may well see a mix of more relaxed dressers and power dressers, depending on the industry. Most signs are pointing towards a combination of working in the office and from home post-pandemic, which you can read more about here. It makes sense, then, that dress codes will reflect this flexibility.

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Studies have suggested that working from home can increase productivity levels and that dressing more comfortably also increases productivity. Therefore, you might assume that those who aren’t in client-facing roles, where looking the part is paramount to success, are jumping at the chance to extend casual Friday.

However, we can’t rule out the suit just yet. Some are looking forward to dressing up again, but why?

There are a couple of answers. The first being that, understandably, people are excited to wear something different, as almost a year in sweatshirts and joggers hasn’t left many feeling inspired.

Secondly, wearing smart clothes for work can help to get you into the right mindset. It’s the well-known effect of the power suit – dressing to impress can boost your confidence at work.

If you don’t want to wait to return to the office to get into this mindset, then changing into a designated ‘work outfit’ when working from home can help create a healthier work-life balance. Only 10% of people have been doing this, but it’s strongly recommended by psychologist Dr Baumgartner, who wrote ‘You Are What You Wear’.

This outfit doesn’t have to be smart if you’re worried that wearing a suit around the house seems a little excessive. The routine of changing into something else for work, no matter the outfit, physically represents getting into and out of work mode.

In a time when the boundaries between home life and work-life are more blurred than ever, bringing out the near-forgotten smart shirts from the back of your wardrobe could help to re-establish these boundaries.

It may also be a good chance to check that they still fit before heading back into the office.

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