The past has shown us that major events in history are often followed by unprecedented changes in politics, the economy, and certainly, fashion. And while it’s often difficult to realize the magnitude of a situation while living it, the COVID-19 pandemic has the capability to change the world of workforce fashion in ways we haven’t seen since the last major global pandemic 100 years ago. During the first World War, young men from all corners of the world were being enlisted to fight, leaving their businesses and economies at home to the wives and women they left behind. While approximately twenty million lives would be lost by the end of the war, it was the concurrent 1918 Flu Pandemic that truly devastated the world’s population with estimates as high as 100 million deaths worldwide. Women who originally believed they would be interim factory workers, quickly found themselves permanent fixtures on the home front.
This shift in responsibility and opportunity for women resulted in more practical garb, like trousers and overalls, ne’er seen before on women outside the household. As women cemented their importance in the workplace, the men who did return home found their spouses less willing to cinch into uncomfortable (and often damaging) corsets, preferring instead for more comfortable attire they could actually work in. This fight for practical fashion led to the iconic flapper dresses and women’s trousers we associate with The Roaring 20s.
(Image: Glamour Daze)
While these two pandemics resulted in vastly different ideas of working life, (the first saw the greatest number of women ever leaving the home to work, while the other sent men, women, and children back inside the home) both impacted the fashion staples of their respective ‘20s. During the most recent Work From Home tenure, we have certainly grown comfortable in our yoga pants and sweats, and many of us have even elected to stay in our pajama bottoms for those “only top-half visible” daily Zoom meetings. And we’ve been undeniably productive while doing it. According to a University of Southampton study, working from home has resulted in greater output per hour spent working as well as less wasted time throughout the day (Forbes). And who wouldn’t be more productive when they’re not constantly distracted by their too-tight collar or their far too genial cubicle neighbor coming over to chat twice an hour? For some of us, we knew it was only a matter of time before we’d have to leave our cozy WFH havens for the traditional office environments, but does that mean we have to leave our productivity wear behind as well?
Being expected to re-adopt traditional “Business Casual” attire as we return to our workplace feels like the modern-day equivalent of asking a 1920 factory worker to ditch her comfortable overalls (with pockets) for her old, corseted hobble skirt- it’s not going to happen.
“Business Casual” is a term people throw around when explaining how you should dress for an event, but what exactly qualifies as “Business casual”? If you ask me, my mind doesn’t immediately jump to pencil skirts and blouses when I hear the word “casual”. In this return to the work-front, we’re doing-away with ambiguous dress codes and confusing qualifiers and entering the Work Leisure era. We all got far too, well, comfortable working (quite productively) from home in our sweats, leggings, or even pajamas to be forced to go back to starchy, stiff dress pants, and blister-inducing footwear, and luckily bosses are taking note. Sure, it would be great to continue wearing our pajama bottoms to board meetings and oversized hoodies and slippers to client face-to-faces, but some things are better left at home. Enter: “Business Comfortable”.
As consumers, we’re looking for multi-purpose attire. Think: a pair of pants you don’t immediately want to take off the second you close the front door after a long day at the office. Brands are scaling back on pantsuits and tailored-wear production and aiming to provide dual-purpose fashion- something we can comfortably wear to the office and to our weekend activities. I’m talking about flex and a little bit (or a lot) of stretch. Countless brands have jumped on the yoga pant craze with their own, dress-pant inspired versions of the comfy classic for when you have that important board meeting at 3:00 but hot yoga with the girls at 4:30. You can pair a versatile, yet comfortable, pant with an everyday t-shirt or your favorite peplum top for the perfect compromise between effortlessly chic zipperless comfort.
Of course, there are those among us who have longed for the return to in-office work. Those who have been patiently waiting for the chance show off their new favorite Business Casual outfit for that Monday morning runway walk to the water cooler. Getting back into a routine of dressing up for work may be just what you need to put the years of COVID lockdowns and restrictions behind you and return to a much-needed sense of normalcy. But whether you’re anxiously steaming and pressing your office classics like button-downs and pleated skirts or rolling into work in the stretchiest of all your yoga attire, it’s safe to say post lockdown office wear is looking a lot different than it did a few short (or painfully long) years ago.