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Post Pandemic Dress Guidance


Many workers have spent the past year working from home, their suits and dress shoes gathering dust while they padded around in slippers and sweats. But many companies are looking to return to the office. Will more casual looks stay in vogue?

Some wonder if the fashion pendulum will swing and bring on more luxe apparel. Even during the pandemic, many white-collar employees kept a "Zoom shirt" that made them look business-appropriate when on Zoom calls, but could be slung over the back of a chair for the rest of the day. That suggests that not even a year of working from home could truly change our idea of what was appropriate to wear at work.

So, what of the transition back to the office? Many people are reexamining their pre-pandemic clothing style to determine whether their closets still reflect who they are now, according to Glamour magazine. One of the benefits of having separate wardrobes for work and for life is psychological. It's good to separate home and work, and one way to do that is by getting dressed for work. The routine can help us maintain a sense of control and a degree of normality in times when we feel a lack of control, say psychologists.

What you wear may help you feel good. So allowing yourself to be comfortable when not working with clients can help you feel relaxed and focused on work, rather than on how you look. Still, it may be a hard transition to go from your home office sweats to corporate office formal if dress codes return. It's difficult to return to older standards of formality now that we're so used to doing our jobs in more comfortable clothes from home.

Fashion designer David Hart thinks there will be a strong urge to start dressing up again —dressing for yourself and not because you're required to for work. In this scenario, a man wearing a suit will be the new rebel. But Jeff Galak, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business, expects a lot of experimentation and creativity.

Some workers are yearning to express themselves with bright colors and patterns, plus such accessories as long necklaces and statement earrings, while others will be happy to dust off their favorite outfits. Many others may not be ready to completely let go of comfort, and might blend athleisure with a more personal touch.

Expect a mixed bag — an easing of office dress codes that allow for less formality and more casual norms, with more autonomy for workers to dress according to what suits their personality and workplace needs. The amount of effort  people will be willing to expend on dressing for the office will depend more on them than on their bosses' policies.

There may be a strong desire to return to pre-pandemic normal. Sweatpants and T-shirts might be wonderful when working from home, but returning to business casual or even traditional office wear might be a psychological reminder that we're moving past the pandemic.

Some firms and industries will forge a new normal to help lower employee anxiety about returning to the office and be able to feel less stress during the transition back to working on-site. Retail and e-commerce research analyst Alexis DeSalva Kahler says that dress codes don't fit in with the life we're living anymore. She expects workers to demand workwear that is comfortable but put together, reflecting a lifestyle of sometimes working in the office and sometimes from home. That may mean professional silhouettes in fabrics that are more comfortable — ones that are stretchy and breathable.

Stating what your policy is will help. Remind employees of company expectations. Don't leave the company dress code up for interpretation.

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