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The Evolution of Business Casual in The Era of COVID-19

Trying to fit stretchy pants into your back-to-work uniform? You’re not alone.

Many workers are returning to the office after more than a year of working from home to find that the standards for what is considered, “business casual” have changed. Some companies now, even the more traditional ones, are relaxing dress codes or moving to hybrid arrangements, blurring the lines of what is considered appropriate workwear.

In the US, fashion companies saw a 90% decline in profit in 2020 as people started working from home. No longer needing to adhere to their rigid office clothing standards, employees found themselves reaching instead for comfortable pajamas and athleisure. However, as offices begin to reopen, many are finding themselves making updates to their office wardrobe.

To illustrate, sneakers, stretch fabrics, and low-key athleisure are some of the new staples creeping their way into America’s workwear staples. Changes like these are causing more traditional retailers to restock and redesign for the new era of workwear.  Stores such as Banana Republic are reconfiguring styles to make them more comfortable, as well as Brooks Brothers, who are investing in more casual pieces and colorful prints. This change has been long coming, thanks to the relaxed nature of Silicon Valley startups, a new business attitude has emerged that is growing in popularity.

“We are seeing hybrid dressing: workwear meets evening wear meets leisurewear,” said Ana Andjelic, chief brand officer for Banana Republic. “All bets are off.”

However, post-pandemic fashion sales may not rise to their original statistics as many companies plan to embrace a hybrid future. Offices with hybrid arrangements are keeping their in-person dress codes, but allowing employees to dress as they please on days they work from home. This trend means staff will need fewer office clothes, and indicates a shift in employer thinking.

Meanwhile, the pandemic is seemingly dismantling the age old thought that productivity is linked to snappy dressing in the office. A study by Stanford of 16,000 workers over 9 months found that working from home increases productivity by 13%. This leads workers to ask; If productivity rises in our pajamas, what is the point of formal office dress codes?

In sum, the new era of “business casual” has become a case-by-case instance, leading to a unique future for office culture.