When the COVID-19 pandemic sent many people in the United States home to work, Walmart soon reported an interesting discovery. The retailer experienced increased sales of blouses and other nice shirts but a decrease in dressy pants. With teleconferencing the norm and colleagues not physically around, workers only seemed concerned about how they presented themselves from the waist up.
As vaccinations become more widespread and safety regulations ease, workers are slowly but surely returning to the office. While most likely will make sure they look presentable head to toe — as in no longer pairing buttoned-up blouses with pajama bottoms — might their time spent at home influence their post-pandemic style?
Eager to dress up again
Some women cannot wait to go back to dresses, nice pants, jackets, heels, jewelry, makeup, and the like. They enjoy a distinction between what they wear to work and what they put on at home.
"Wearing pajamas and baggy shirts while working at home feels lethargic and makes me want to binge on Netflix all day," says Daniela Baker, community manager at CreditDonkey. "That's why coming back to on-site work feels like Christmas to me. Dressing up is an integral part of my career to make me look professional, trustworthy, and competent. After being buried in the fear and anxiety of the pandemic, the last thing I want to do is wear something that will not gain my confidence and spirit back. Right now, I love wearing clothes/accessories that give me extra flair like bold patterns, chain earrings, or layered necklaces. It's a subtle way of empowering yourself as you go back to on-site work."
Content to stay casual
Having sampled workdays in leisure clothing, some women express little desire to go back to pre-pandemic attire. They enjoy the comfort and forgoing the daily fuss.
"I'm a mom of two rowdy pre-teens, so I have definitely appreciated the chance to work from home in sweats or, at the most, business casual," says Jennifer Walden, director of operations for Wikilawn. "I haven't really been looking forward to making business casual and beyond an everyday thing! Before the pandemic, I used to spend an hour getting ready — clothing, hair, makeup, and that's not even counting wrangling the kids. I definitely won't be putting in that much time when we go back. It will be nice on occasion to dress to go someplace, but at this point, I consider it a hassle that's taking up precious time I could be spending elsewhere."
A survey by Korn Ferry, a global organizational consulting firm, supports the notion of workplace dress heading in a more relaxed direction. In April 2021, it asked nearly 600 professionals the question, "Do you think you'll dress differently than pre-pandemic when you return to the office?" Half of the respondents said "yes, more casually," 7% replied "yes, more formally," and 43% said, "no, the same."
Undoubtedly, factors such as company dress codes and industry standards will influence what women wear to work in the months ahead. Likewise, position plays a part. Employees in customer-facing roles likely will experience greater pressure to represent the organization in more traditional business attire than behind-the-scenes colleagues.
Don't be surprised, however, if elements from dressing for remote work influence on-site wardrobes. Online entrepreneur Kryz Uy has already noticed some trends:
- Comfort: "Before the pandemic, my workmates would usually go for the more structured clothing for work. It completely has changed now because attire is still as formal but more loose fitting than before. Tight pencil skirts are now flowy long skirts or dresses, which tells me that comfort is genuinely a factor when dressing up for work."
- Color: "I also noticed clothing being a little more colorful when it used to be just white and black. The nude tones and pastel tones are given a twist by making them look formal and professional. I'm guessing this could reflect how they wanted to bring in color in their lives since they were home for a while."
- Style: "This is one of the most significant changes I noticed since people are now experimental with their clothing styles. It's honestly like a fashion runway sometimes whenever I meet my clients for work. But I cannot complain about this either because I am just as excited to wear new, trendy fashion pieces."
Time will tell just how much of a long-lasting impact remote work during Covid-19 had on workplace culture. It's pretty safe to say, though, that both literally and figuratively business as usual may never look the same.