What's appropriate to wear to work right now?

The Future of Workwear Post-Pandemic

Maybe you’ve noticed it—your office neighbor, who used to wear strictly J.Crew, is now rocking T-shirts and jeans on your Zoom calls. Heck, maybe that’s you! The relaxation from business casual attire to full-on casual attire was bound to happen after several stressful years where work no longer felt like the most important thing in our lives. Now that many companies are moving back into the office (whether or not we like it), we’re wondering what the future holds for workwear. First, let’s look at where we’ve been with American workwear.

Corporate Workwear: A brief history

During the rise of corporate culture (late ’60s through the ’90s) working in an office meant you also had to dress the part (aka, to impress). Throughout the years, the fashion industry capitalized on having multiple wardrobes for your “work self”, your “lounge self”, your “vacation self”, and so on. There was also an air of competitiveness in dressing the part. “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have”, went the old saying. The underlying promise was that the most stylish-presenting professionals (and those with the drive to spend money on wardrobes) were bound for success. And, hey, even if you were passed up for that promotion, at least you looked good.

Millennials and the Start-up Environment

The turn of the century brought anxiety around an ongoing war, recessions, student loan debt, and more. Young professionals were expected to show up anyway, spending money on a work wardrobe that suited them for a corporate culture led by the previous generation. Again, the fashion industry answered with fast-fashion solutions to quell the financial worries of Millenials (at the expense of the environment). But, again, at least you looked good and met HR’s business casual requirements. It wasn’t until Silicone Valley erupted with techies who couldn’t care less about what they wore that the Start-up Environment changed everything. Purchase several black turtlenecks and a pair of good jeans, then you’re all set—because the quality of and time spent on your work suddenly mattered more than what you wore.

Gen-Z, Hustle Culture, and the Pandemic

Even before the pandemic, there was already a fracturing happening around work/life balance. Millennials often felt the need to have multiple jobs just to make ends meet and feel fulfilled, trying to make something of passion projects. Some found success, while others just felt increasingly burnt out. Meanwhile, Gen-Z had different ideas: don’t settle for some job when you can have your dream job now. The fashion designers' response? We’ll help you create your own iconic brand with capsule collections, limited runs, and flash sales a-la Supreme.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic threw us all into lockdown, Hustle Culture was pretty much canceled. So was the toxic need to put your work ahead of taking care of yourself.

Where does this leave the future of workwear?

As we’ve covered recently, more and more office spaces are allowing employees to work from wherever based on their personal needs. Along with this individualism comes the return of personal comfort over dressing to the nines to impress others. However, that doesn’t mean the love of a person’s personal brand or uniqueness will fall by the wayside. What do we predict? Business Casual will be replaced with Your Personal Best. Everyone will still be required to be fully clothed, but outside of that, really, anything goes—especially if it’s you wearing what makes you feel like the best version of you. For some who want to spend money on high-quality, comfortable clothing, they’ll be able to do their thing. For your co-worker who wants to T-shirt and jean it up, that’s their choice and both are acceptable. Let’s be real: with all the quiet quitting going on and raised expectations on benefits, companies can’t afford to put even more restrictions on peoples’ wardrobes. There may still be some competitiveness to look cute, but all in all, the future of workwear fashion will be all up to the individual to decide.

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