Business casual got quite the rebrand during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to Zoom and other video communication platforms, what now passes as “business appropriate” is a button-down shirt and boxer briefs, or perhaps even pajamas or cozy loungewear that technically passes as an outfit. While some opted to continue on with getting ready and dressed each day just to log into a meeting from a makeshift office in their home kitchen, others took advantage of working from home and saw it as a chance to slow down a little bit and get their work done in a more relaxed manner.
Within weeks after nationwide stay-at-home orders were announced, loungewear sales skyrocketed. For many people, “dress for success” became an antiquated notion during a time when stress levels became beyond comprehensible. The definition of success shifted as so many people had to learn how to juggle managing their children’s homeschooling while showing up to video conferences on time and meeting various deadlines. To some, “success” was showing up at all, dress slacks or not. Employers understood this; after all, they have families, too, and we were all going through the same mindboggling reality shift.
Whether working from home was a juggling act for you or simply a chance to sleep in and show up to the 9 am Zoom meeting wearing yoga pants and a hoodie, the question on everybody’s minds as they head back to the office seems to be: What am I supposed to wear now?
Offices are opening their doors once again after more than a year of functioning remotely, and some companies are switching it up a bit. Employees are coming back to work to find new, relaxed dressed codes and hybrid work arrangements, effectively blurring the lines between what was formerly considered work attire and leisurewear. After all, if we were able to be productive wearing less constricting clothing, why not have the option to continue? Of course, button-downs and boxer briefs are out of the question now that we can see each other’s entire bodies, but the fashion industry took note of the change and are making quite a few changes of their own.
In an interview with the Washington Post, chief brand officer Ana Andjelic for Banana Republic said, “We are seeing hybrid dressing: workwear meets evening wear meets leisurewear. All bets are off.” Retailers that formerly sold work attire have shifted to designing more comfortable and expressive options for their customers, such as flowy dresses and brightly-colored shirts meant for the office. But what exactly is this new dress code? Certainly, pajamas are out of the question, but what about yoga pants? Shorts? How do we navigate another “new normal?” The short answer: we have to communicate.
The pandemic sparked a conversation about whether or not “business attire” is still relevant. Many people realized they could get their work done just as well in a less restricting outfit as they could while wearing full penguin suits in a cubicle– maybe even better. Perhaps people feel more seen when they’re able to wear something that better reflects their personalities and style, or maybe it’s just a complete drag to wear something uncomfortable all day long and then realize it’s “dry clean only” after ruining it in the washing machine.
Whatever the case, the people have spoken, and they don’t want everything to return back to how it was pre-pandemic. Instead, they want hybrid work options and the ability to splurge on luxury loungewear instead of slacks and a blouse.
If you’re anxious about what you can now wear and what is better suited for your work-from-home days, talk to your colleagues and superiors. It’s likely they’re in the same confused boat as you, and having open discussions about what is acceptable and what isn’t is the best way to navigate yet another change in our lives. Hopefully, you know your colleagues and superiors well enough to gauge the change.
A more casual environment will still have its limits, and it may be in your best interest to test the waters with care before walking through the door looking like you confused your first meeting with a Netflix binge. But with the biggest department stores and retailers rapidly changing their inventory to incorporate these new, more relaxed dress codes, finding what works best for you shouldn’t be too much of an issue.