Is workwear over? Or: will we ever be able to tolerate non-elasticated waistbands again?
When we finally emerge from our WFH cocoons, will our workwear return to normal, or will we have all become too accustomed to prioritising comfort for it to ever be the same?
Like so many things during this pandemic, workwear has been overnight rendered almost entirely obsolete. Sure, you might switch your hoodie for a nice jumper, or disguise your unwashed hair with a jazzy headband before a Zoom call, but very few of us are getting dressed in the morning in the way we usually would before going to work.
I’ve surprised myself at just how unwilling I’ve become to put anything other than leggings (or shorts, for those few blissful warm days) on my body these last few weeks. Sure, although they were purchased for running, I have leggings that I would have often worn around the house. But I was never the kind of person who thought jeans were uncomfortable, or that it needed to be a special occasion to put a nice shirt on.
Except, in lockdown, it seems I have become this person. I bought a pair of Whistles jeans that I’d wanted for over a year a week into working from home, and I genuinely thought I would wear them frequently, lockdown or not. And I did, for about a week. I love the jeans, but the ease of leggings kept luring me back. With office and colleagues removed, for me at least, comfort is winning every time.
I can’t wait for an excuse to get dressed up properly again, but I can barely imagine having to go back to the office and put actual, respectable-to-be-seen-in clothes on every day. It will probably be like that feeling of putting shoes back on after a holiday abroad when only sandals touched your feet, or buttoning up your school uniform after the long summer holidays, feeling more and more restricted as the shirt tightens up your torso. I can still remember wondering how I could ever wear this uncomfortable skirt and shirt every day.
And yet, like the school uniform or our poor, closed-in feet, we in all likelihood will get used to dressing more smartly again. What I wonder though, is if we will push back against the idea that it’s necessary? While those who work in roles with formal dress codes may not have the option, will those of us who have workplaces with less strict rules on what to wear be loathe to give up our new-found comfort?
Ex-British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman recently told Grazia that when she left her role, “I had to work out what I wanted to wear when I no longer had a role to dress for.” Without the expectations associated with being one of the leading authorities in fashion, she suddenly had to think about what was actually her.
She went on to say, “So when I started working from home, yes I wore more jeans and sweaters, but I invested in sweaters I really loved, like a huge Acne sloppy Joe, a black Chloé knit embossed in gold. I wore trainers for the first time. I have indulged in my love of deep-dyed indigo, which I never felt was quite right for the editor of Vogue.”
I love this idea of being more true to our own style and comfort, without totally reverting to sweatshirts in the office. It’s perhaps evaluating whether we genuinely love wearing heels to work, or whether actually, we’d prefer the freedom of a stylish trainer. Or whether we’re buying tops because we think they would be ‘handy for work’ as opposed to being something we really love, and would wear anytime.
I think I’ll also turn more often to comfortable-yet-smart items, like the several pairs of loose, flowy trousers that I own, and I’ve always loved tops to be oversized, anyway. We’ve already seen comfortable yet stylish pieces like ‘throw-on’ dresses and casual jumpsuits rise in popularity, and I’ve been eyeing up Everlane’s easy straight leg chino for toeing the line perfectly between pyjama bottoms and actual trousers.
What’s interesting for me, is that these are the kind of items I’ve always looked longingly at but mostly shyed away from, worrying that they’ll make me look shapeless. This is perhaps my chance to shake off those fears and embrace how I truly want to dress.
Maybe you disagree, and are dying for a chance to squeeze yourself into a pencil skirt again. Maybe I’m wrong, and I’ll want nothing but the structure of stiff fabrics next to my skin once we emerge out of all this. Whatever happens though, I think we’ll all have a different approach to getting dressed, whether we appreciate it more, or decide that it perhaps doesn’t matter as much as we once thought it did.
Featured image: Jason Lloyd-Evans
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