If you didn’t buy any new clothes during the pandemic, you’re far from alone.
In the UK, clothing sales plummeted 25% in 2020, the largest annual drop since record-keeping began 23 years ago. The picture was similar in the US, where fashion companies saw a 90% decline in profit in 2020. Particularly hard hit was the business-fashion sector, as workers swapped offices for their homes, in-person meetings for Zoom – and downgraded their outfits accordingly.
Now, as vaccine rollouts move many countries closer to returning to the office, many of us may be realising it’s time to sideline our athleisure and slip into something a little more presentable.
This realisation might be particularly acute, and indeed unwelcome, for people employed in sectors where formal attire – like business suits, ties and high-heels – is more common. Yet we’ve been drifting away from these kinds of office dress codes for years, and experts believe that the pandemic will have further reduced the need for this kind of attire.
As we transition to the post-pandemic era and its new forms of flexible work, companies may well focus more on functionality – and care even less about staff showing up in formal office wear.
Formality’s rise and fall
It’s abundantly clear that the pandemic has accelerated a long-standing discussion around whether business attire is still relevant. Lockdowns were barely a few weeks old before we began prognosticating about the future of slacks and blazers. By May, we were already debating why the office dress code should never come back, or whether the suit was finally dead.
At first, some experts encouraged us to dress up for work video calls anyway, as it could bolster our mental health and increase our sense of purpose and productivity. (Most of us dropped that pretty quickly, though). Instead, during the past 18 months, most of us have worn what’s comfortable – and the overall consensus is that we’ve been pretty productive, regardless.
That’s a far cry from the idea that to do your best work – and cultivate the best impression – you need to look the part. That kind of thinking dates back to the Victorian era, when professional, educated and wealthy men wore wardrobes of velvet and fur, which signaled status and influence.