The Star (Jamaica)

People alter office wear amid COVID


Blazers in knit fabrics, pants with drawstring­s or elastic waists, and polo shirts as the new button-down.

Welcome to the post-pandemic dress code for the office.

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.

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. That has retailers and brands rushing to meet workers’ fashion needs for the future of work.

“Being comfortabl­e is more important than being superstruc­tured,” said Kay MartinPenc­e, 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’s gone back to heels, but they’re lower, and she says she will never wear dress pants again to the office.

Even before the pandemic, Americans were dressing more casually at work. The time spent in sweats accelerate­d the shift from ‘business casual’ to ‘business comfort’.

Still, return- tooffice dressing remains a social experiment, said Adam Galinsky, a social psychologi­st at Columbia Business School who coined the term ‘enclothed cognition’, or how what people wear affects how they think.

“My guess is that it will go more casual, but maybe it doesn’t,” Galinsky said. “People are going to be consciousl­y thinking about: ‘Am I wearing the right outfit for being in the office?’ They’re going to be thinking about what they’re doing, the context they’re in, and the social comparison­s of what others will be doing.”

Steve Smith, CEO of outdoor sportswear brand L.L. Bean, said people are stepping out of their “typical uniform” — whatever form that 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.

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