Post-Pandemic Fashion: Is The Office Dress Code Dead?

Post PandemicFashion:IsTheOfficeDressCodeDead?
As workers return to their offices, will we be in suits or sweatpants?
  • As workers return to their offices, will we be in suits or sweatpants?
  • Many people are re-examining their pre-pandemic clothing style to determine if their closets still reflect who they are now.
  • Workers are likely to choose less formality and more casual norms.

Workplace style in 2020 during the pandemic took a dramatic shift towards casual attire. With many offices sitting empty, office dress codes became largely unnecessary.

For many workers who have spent the past year working from home, suits and dress shoes have been gathering dust in exchange for comfy pants, slippers, and the occasional dress top for Zoom calls. 

Now, as many companies look towards a possible return to the office as vaccine distribution ramps up worldwide, will this more casual trend claim a place in the office as well? Or, will the fashion pendulum swing to the opposite end of the spectrum as people seek to shed their sweatpants for more luxe choices?

Even in the early months of the pandemic, many articles speculated that this could be the end of the office dress code — and some suggest it should be.

The “Zoom Shirt”

Work style experts shifted to providing insight on appropriate work from home attire as opposed to coordinating separates for the office. Clothing trends, as pointed out in this June 2020 New York Times article, included terms like “Zoom shirt” and “Mullet Dressing”, which highlighted the practice of putting on a business appropriate top only when on video calls. These shirts could then be promptly slung over the backs of desk chairs or thrown onto nearby couches once the cameras were off.

Now that many workers have gone over a year focusing on WFH comfort free of office dress code restrictions, it isn’t surprising that the transition back to the office, if it happens at all, will come with open questions about workplace style. In an article published in March 2021, Glamour Magazine calls this the “personal style apocalypse,” with many people re-examining their pre-pandemic clothing style to determine if their closets still reflect who they are now. 

One of the benefits of having separate wardrobes for work and for life is psychological.

Having a routine helps us separate home and work, so can include getting dressed for work. “Keeping a routine helps us maintain a sense of control and degree of normality in times when we are feeling a lack of control, which leads to stress and even anxiety,” professor Carolyn Mair, author of “The Psychology of Fashion,” said when interviewed for Today after lockdowns shuttered many offices. “What matters more than the actual garments we wear is that they help us feel good.”

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    Dress for Relaxation and Focus

    However, allowing ourselves to be more comfortable and cozy, especially when not interfacing with clients or customers, can help us stay relaxed and focused on work, rather than on how we look at work.

    In a recent article on post-pandemic fashion for USA Today, Sonya Abrego, a New York City-based design and fashion historian, commented on the potentially hard transition from home office comfort to corporate office formal if dress codes do return. “I think it’s going to be hard to go to older standards of formality now that people are so used to doing their jobs in more comfortable clothes from home,” she says.

    So what does the fashion industry think will emerge with a return to the office? 

    One opinion is that there will be a major reaction to a year of gray sweatpants and slippers in the form of risk-taking, fashion-forward outfits.

    American designer David Hart told the Economic Times of India that he believes, “there will be a strong urge for men to start dressing up again.” However, he believes the reasons for wanting to dress up will not be driven by office dress codes. “I think that people will start dressing up for themselves and not because they are required to for work,” he said, confident that the rise of men’s fashion will continue. His hope is that post-pandemic fashion will be a world where formal wear is disruptive. “The man wearing a suit will be the new rebel.”


    Emilia Ferrara, the D.C. Commissioner of Fashion Arts and Events, told USA Today that she expects to see a lot of experimentation and creativity with bright colors and patterns as well as very visible accessories such as bright handbags, long necklaces, and statement earrings.

    On the other side, it is expected that while many workers are yearning to express themselves and dust off their best outfits, they may not be ready to completely let go of the comfort they’ve found, leading to a rise in trends like athleisure, which blends the comfort of athletic wear with a more fashionable touch to be worn anywhere.
    What is most likely to happen is a mixed bag, with an easing of pre-pandemic office dress codes that allow for less formality and more casual norms and with it more autonomy for workers to dress up as best suits their personalities and workplace needs. A recent article in Vogue Business sums it nicely by saying that, “designers and retailers alike are seeking to sell sequins and sweatpants as we continue through 2021.”

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