Return-to-office style: Letting go of dress codes; embracing hybrid fashion and individuality

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(NEW YORK) — Millions of Americans have traded traditional work wardrobes for loungewear in the nearly two years of working remotely during the pandemic.

Now, as companies discuss return-to-office plans, many people are also rethinking what their post-pandemic workwear might look like. Will traditional “work vs. weekend” wardrobes become a thing of the past after the pandemic?

“The lines between work and weekend have been blurring for decades,” Deirdre Clemente, professor of fashion history at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, told “Good Morning America.” “This transition, [due to the pandemic] has certainly been faster since business casual became the standard for workplace attire in the early 2000s. So what we view as pandemic dress standards have actually been coming slowly for quite some time.”

“Dress standards change as American culture changes,” she added. “The pandemic has put many aspects of our lives into sharp focus.”

As the trend of casual workwear was accelerated by the pandemic, fashion retailers have also had to adapt to strike a balance between comfort and polished apparel.

Executives at men’s fashion brand Suitsupply, known for providing a wide array of trendy work-ready suiting as well as casual wear, noticed their customers have recently started to gravitate toward relaxed styles.

“There is a sort of hybrid composition to an outfit happening at the moment,” Suitsupply CEO & founder Fokke de Jong told “GMA.” “We’re seeing suits come back big time and people are using alternative layers underneath to dress them down — we call it ‘elevated casual.'”

“We’re meeting this movement with smart crossover pieces like knitted suits and dressy trousers with casual details like drawstring closures and elastic waistbands,” he said. Jong also points out items such as shirt-jackets working well for a more relaxed office setting, while cotton-cashmere sweatsuits and pure cashmere hoodies brings a more refined touch to leisurewear — making them ideal for a home office.

Alternatively, athleisure apparel brands, such as Lululemon, have found ways to fully lean into their current offerings based on increased customer demand.

Lululemon’s latest 11-market global study survey of male participants found a connection between comfort and confidence. Eight in 10 millennial men said perform better at work when they are dressed comfortably and close to nine in 10 would like their employer to loosen up dress code rules, according to their survey.

“The data provides a long-overdue recognition that professional workwear can and should be functional, versatile, and comfortable — and when it is all three, it can positively affect performance, confidence and more,” said Lululemon chief product officer Sun Choe in a statement.

“In many ways, both working from home and this ‘next normal’ of a hybrid work environment has amplified what Lululemon has been designing for all along — versatile, distraction-free garments that move with you through changing conditions and activities, making the wearer feel confident and looking sharp,” said Lululemon senior vice president, design, Ben Stubbington in a statement.

He continued, “The success and current strength of Lululemon’s iconic ABC Pant, as well as several other key styles, highlight how consumers are shopping for functional, versatile items that don’t sacrifice on style.”

While experts say it’s difficult to confirm the lasting power of the pandemic comfort trend, Clemente says that post-pandemic work wardrobes will be more versatile and individualized.

“Many things that mattered so much before have less meaning now, she said. “Our clothes will come to reflect these new social standards, that’s how fashion works.”

“Some people will choose a more formal attire, for a while at least,” Clemente added. “Others will just walk in as if they were still working out of their spare bedroom.”

“More than any other time in human history, we have a vast array of wardrobe choices.”

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