Sneakers, elastic pants: People alter office wear amid COVID

Sneakers, elastic pants: People alter office wear amid COVID thumbnail

After working remotely in sweats and yoga pants for two years, many Americans are rethinking their wardrobes to balance comfort and professionalism as offices reopen

May 2, 2022, 4: 04 AM

6 min read

NEW YORK — Blazers in knit fabrics, pants with drawstrings or elastic waists, and polo shirts as the new button-down. Welcome to the post-pandemic office dress code.

After two years of working remotely in yoga pants and sweatpants, many Americans are now rethinking how they dress to ensure comfort and professionalism when offices reopen. They’re giving a heave-ho to the structured suits, zip-front pants and pencil skirts they wore before the COVID-19 pandemic and experimenting with new looks. Retailers and brands are rushing to cater to workers’ fashion needs in the future of work, this has led to a rush by brands and retailers.

“Being comfortable is more important than being super structured,” said Kay Martin-Pence, 58, who went back to her Indianapolis office last month in dressy jeans and flowy tops after working remotely in leggings and slippers for two years. “Why feel buttoned up and stiff when I don’t have to?”

Before COVID-19, Martin-Pence used to wear dress pants with blazers to the pharmaceutical company where she works. She has returned to heels but they are lower and she said she will no longer wear dress pants to work.

Americans were more casually dressed at work even before the pandemic. The shift from business casual to business comfort was accelerated by the time spent in sweats. “

Return-to-office dressing is still a social experiment. Adam Galinsky, a Columbia Business School social psychologist, coined the term “enclothed cognitive,” which refers to how clothes affect how people think.

” My guess is that it’ll go more casually, but maybe not,” Galinsky stated. “People will be thinking about whether they are wearing the right clothes for the office. “

Steve Smith, CEO of L.L. Bean Outdoor Sportswear Brand, will be asking himself if he is wearing the right outfit for the office. “

Steve Smith is the CEO of L.L. Outdoor Sportswear. Bean said that people are moving out of their “typical uniform”, whatever form it may take.

“They’re going to expect more flexible hours, to be able to work in hybrid model, and to be comfortable — as comfortable as they were at home,” he said. Some office uniforms and office wardrobes are changing. There’s no reason why it can’t be permanent.”

Data from market research firm NPD Group and retailers reflect the shifting trends.

Wire-free bras now represent more than 50% of the total, non-sports bra market in the U.S., reversing a long-term trend, according to NPD. Sales of dressy footwear have been rebounding since 2021, but they’re still 34% below 2019 levels and more likely fueled by the return of social occasions, not the office, NPD said. Casual sneakers are now the most popular shoes for work.

Clothing rental company Rent the Runway said rentals for blazers were up nearly twofold in February from last year, reflecting a return to offices. Its customers are choosing pastels and lightweight tweed, linens, and twill fabrics. It said “business formal” rentals — traditional workwear like basic sheaths, pencil skirts and blazers — are roughly half of what they were in 2019, said Anushka Salinas, president and chief operating officer.

StitchFix, a personal styling and shopping service, observed that men are choosing to wear golf pants and hiking for work. The revenue for this type of clothing increased nearly threefold in the first three months of the fiscal year compared to last year. The company stated that

Polo shirt has replaced the collared button down for men and that there is strong demand for pull on pants. The ratio of elastic-waist work pants to those with buttons or zippers on Stitch Fix was one to one in 2019; now it’s three to one.

Other workers are excited to get dressed up again.

Emily Kirchner, 42, of Stevensville, Michigan, who works in communications for a major appliance manufacturer, said she’s investing more in her wardrobe as she returns to the office. In the pre-pandemic years, she used to wear Stitch Fix leggings and tunic tops. She now uses the service to order high-end blouses, blouses, and blazers.

” “It’s kinda fun to dress up,” Kirchner said. She had a baby during the pandemic, and she wants clothes that don’t make it look like a “frumpy mother.” “It’s kind of like that back-to-school feeling.”

Retailers had to pivot to Americans’ changing demands throughout the pandemic and now again with many returning to offices. Nordstrom, a high-end department store, opened a women’s denim shop to showcase its expanded collection as more women are wearing jeans to work.

Even Ministry of Supply had to make major changes in order to make work clothes as comfortable as possible. It was left with piles of tailored pants, jackets and jackets made from performance fabrics that were not appropriate for remote workers when the pandemic struck.

The Boston-based company was started by students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They quickly reengineered items, adding elastic waistbands to the garments and removing zippers. It also shortened the hems of pant suits to make them more “sneaker” in appearance.

Ministry of Supply wants workers to return to work with a relaxed look and sneaker cuts. It has permanently eliminated zippers and all its pants now have elastic waistbands and drawstrings. It is also reinventing its tailored suit.

” The new challenge is to look professional when in person, without sacrificing comfort. Gihan Amarasiriwardena is co-founder and president.

The 200-year-old haberdashery Brooks Brothers had a bigger challenge — it never followed the casual office attire trend several years ago like its rivals. The company’s new CEO Ken Ohashi and owner has made it possible to offer relaxed styles in a postbankruptcy rebirth.

Now, 45% of its offerings are casual sportwear like sweaters and polo shirts. Before the pandemic, that figure was 25%, Ohashi said.

He stated that dress shirts are making an appearance as workers return to work. Brooks Brothers has a new twist on the cotton-knit shirt: it now offers a stretch version with the comfort of a Polo. It also offers colorful jackets.

“The man is attracted to novelty right this moment, novelty color, novelty printing, novelty pattern,” Ohashi stated. “Historically, this guy came in and bought a navy, charcoal, and black suit. He wants to mix it all. That is what I believe will continue. “


Associated Press writer David Sharp contributed from Freeport, Maine.


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