Working from home during COVID-19 is changing what we’re wearing in the office — and going back is like ‘casual Friday every day’
Comfort dressing — or ‘quarantine style’ — was a fashion force to be reckoned with during COVID-19.
If seeing your colleagues in jumpers and clutching a mug of tea during Zoom meetings was not proof enough, you only had to look to social media to see friends and celebrities alike embracing the trend.
No-one did it better than US rapper and actor Will Smith who, part-way through the lockdown period, began posting a #WillFromHome series on Snapchat.
One of his best posts was a mock-fashion show with model Tyra Banks, making light of quarantine style.
“This is a fashion show for all of us who are dressed up with nowhere to go,” Will said to the camera.
“Every hallway is a runway!” Banks added, as people from around the world paraded for their webcams in their very best trackies, uggs and onesies.
Inevitably, Smith — in his red tracksuit and stripy socks — was in good company.
Tom Simpson, fashion director of online retailer The Iconic, said they saw a “huge demand” for athleisure brands when the country first went into lockdown.
“If there was a number one item in fashion in Australia in the past six months, it was a sweat top and a pair of sneakers,” he said.
“It’s made people realise that you can dress more comfortably, and still work well.”
One of Australia’s most popular activewear labels, P.E Nation, saw a similar surge.
“There has been a massive spike in sales of hoodies, sweats and trackpants, along with the consistent sell through of leggings and active looks across the board,” co-founder Pip Edwards said.
“What is surprising, is that it has been a consistent high sell through from March and we haven’t seen a decline.
“All our product offerings have seen an uplift across the board.”
In fact, despite the significant economic impact COVID-19 had globally, the activewear market has continued to grow by about 3.3 per cent year on year since 2015, and is currently worth $2.8 billion.
‘Comfort is king now’
So how does that desire for comfort translate to the office?
“The lockdown mentality and work from home situation has impacted our way of life for good,” Ms Edwards said.
“People embracing being comfortable and functional fashion into their daily attire, has been eye opening for many.
“We can assume that a bit more of a relaxed dress code will be widely accepted, depending on the occupation.”
But Mr Simpson takes it a step further.
“Going back to work is going to be like casual Friday every day,” he said.
“People found you can be as productive as you want, no matter how you dress.”
Mr Simpson calls this way of dressing “biz-leisure” — something Australian brands do really well.
“The Australian aesthetic is comfort, number one,” he said.
“Australian brands merge comfort and style. Bec and Bridge, Christopher Esber, Sir The Label and Assembly Label; these brands make it easy to be comfortable, wherever you work from.”
Mr Simpson also suggested looking abroad for more style inspiration — something that’s easy to do in this social media world.
“In the menswear world, all you have to do is go to Italy and see their loose fitting and linen suits, and of course for women, in Paris, they know how to dress well in a casual way,” Mr Simpson said.
“Start thinking about the fabrics you’re wearing. When it comes to dresses and skirts and knits look for ribbed styles which are more comfortable, or a jumper dress.
“Men can wear a structured chino or a cotton shirt, or a looser-fit trouser.”
From a sales perspective, Mr Simpson said The Iconic had already seen a huge uptake in regular-fit denim, knits and casual brush cotton shirts.
“There’s been a boom in linen [which is] causal but comfortable, and very summer oriented,” he said.
“Linen suits for both men and women are going to be huge this year.
“Loose-fit tailoring is also very much on trend, for work and the bar, so look for looser-fit trousers and blazers.
“Skirt sales will overtake pants, slides and flat shoe sales have skyrocketed. Comfort is king now.”
Ms Edwards suggested adding a tailored jacket to your look to make it more office-appropriate.
“Teaming trainers or flats with leggings or sweat pants and adding a smart suit jacket immediately elevates the work from home vibe, yet still is comfortable and easy,” she said.
But what if you’ve missed your heels?
What has also been eye-opening during this period, are the items of clothing people have been keen to get rid of … permanently.
Fashion bible dedicated an article to things they will never wear again post-quarantine, and skinny jeans, underwire bras, leather pants and high heels were top of the list.
“Ask any one of our editors and the number one thing they look for in an article of clothing or an outfit these days is comfort,” Allyson Payer wrote.
“As time marches on, we all find ourselves adapting more and more to our new (for the time being, at least) low-key way of life.”
But what if you have been looking forward to slipping into a pair of heels again?
Sports podiatrist Emily Smith said that’s a perfectly valid desire — just as long as you prepare your feet accordingly.
“A lot of people have been wearing trainers or going barefoot during lockdown, and your bones get conditioned,” she said.
“Shifting into a higher heeled shoe where there’s more force on the ball of the foot, the stress to the bones is higher.”
In the past three weeks, Ms Smith has treated “a lot of corporate women” in her clinic in Sydney’s CBD for everything from stress fractures to knee pain to back pain, brought on by wearing heels again.
“The foot rolls out when it’s in a heel over 4cm [and] anything over 7cm is getting out of that safe zone,” she explained.
“Your calf muscles can’t fire properly, your muscles burn out quickly, your toe scrunching muscles turn on, and it’s a bit of a mess from there.”
Ms Smith suggested investing in heels or flats with proper arch support, or adding insoles into your favourite shoes.
“If you want to wear heels, start with the shoes you know are really comfortable, and build up slowly,” she said.
“I’m all for people being able to wear the shoes they want to wear … but you need to build up strength in your legs and condition yourself properly.
“Start tiptoeing around the carpet in the morning and afternoon, and do calf raises while you’re brushing your teeth, so your muscles can develop properly.”
And of course, the humble bra — it’s a constant cause of comfort contention, but there are no health risks associated with wearing or not wearing one.
“If you like it for comfort, wear it; if you’re more comfortable without it, go without,” Dr Amanda Newman from the Jean Hailes Women’s Health Organisation said, stating that there is “no science to support” bra use and breast cancer or breast sag.
“A bra is an article of clothing, not a medical device,” she said.
Dr Newman did state that women who wear a larger cup size might find wearing a bra more comfortable because of the weight of their breasts, which can cause back, shoulder and neck pain.
But when it comes down to it, the choice to wear one or not, is yours.
Lockdown points to another trend
While comfortable clothes are always a plus, Australians are increasingly concerned about their fashion footprint, and during the coronavirus lockdown this was no different.
“During COVID people have been thinking more about money and where it’s being spent,” Mr Simpson said.
“People want to put money back into Aussie brands. They are leaning less towards fast fashion, and looking more into how long products will last.
“Consumers increasingly want things that are trans-seasonal, that last for years and years.”
Consumers interested in shifting away from fast fashion and curating a sustainable back-to-work wardrobe have more information at their fingertips than ever before — including when it comes to looking at how fashion companies have fared throughout the pandemic.
Baptist World Aid Australia have been publishing the Ethical Fashion Report for eight years now, to create more transparency in the fashion industry. But this year, they published a special COVID-19 guide, focussing specifically on “the way fashion companies have stood with their garment workers throughout the pandemic”.
“In 2020, the economic impacts of COVID-19 have seen Australian and New Zealand consumers cut back on overall spending, with lockdown measures rapidly accelerating the shift from the shopping centre to the online store,” .
“This year, we asked brands about their response to the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable workers. Things like tracing supply chains, paying a living wage, and tackling child and forced labour cannot stop during a crisis.”
The Fashion Report assesses companies against a range of criteria, and this year, companies were required to show evidence of how they addressed a list of COVID Fashion Commitments, including supporting workers’ wages, and supporting workers at greatest risk.
“2020 has been an unprecedented year — for workers, for consumers, for companies, and for the broader global community,” the report reads.
“In this context, the report celebrates the fact that more than 70 per cent of the companies researched were able to point to evidence of specific efforts they have taken to support workers.”
‘Aussies are passionate about ethical fashion’
The Fashion Report also contains a scorecard detailing how brands have met their ethical fashion commitments during the COVID-19 crisis, ranking them as fulfilling All, Some or None or the criteria.
Over 40 companies, including those who do work-wear well like Cue, Country Road and David Jones, covered All of the COVID Fashion Commitments, and the report found that nearly 1 in 2 people were willing to pay more for ethically-produced clothes.
It should come as no surprise, then, that “Considered” and “Responsible” edits already exist on sites like The Iconic and ASOS, which have a wealth of workwear options. And, alongside the Baptist World Aid report, bodies like Ethical Clothing Australia also and list of ethical clothing businesses available to peruse online.
Speaking of businesses, while the COVID-19 lockdown might not be the ideal time to start one, there was indeed a surprising demand for ethical clothing throughout this period.
“My experience … tells us that people are searching online for sustainable fashion more and more. These online shopping trends have increased throughout COVID,” Carlos Aguilera, who launched unisex label in September, said.
“Aussies are thoughtful consumers who are passionate about ethical fashion, but it’s been a passion they’ve had to compromise on for too long.
“Aussies haven’t had choice, or ethical fashion has been too expensive, meaning that it’s been a product they’ve been priced-out of.”
Leave The World Better make their clothing from ethically-sourced organic materials, which are printed on-demand in production centres in the US, Europe and Australia.
For every item of clothing purchased, an item of clothing of equal quality is donated to people in need in the country of purchase — they call it, “This TEE gave a TEE”.
“Our goal is to change the fashion industry while clothing people in need around the world,” Mr Aguilera said, adding that his dream “was to build a business where I could l literally give people the shirt off my back”.
“I didn’t want to create fast fashion that ended up in landfill. I wanted to give tees away that are the same quality as the tees I wear,” he said.
Alongside Leave The World Better stand ventures like , also launched during COVID-19, which aims “to make sustainable fashion the norm, by 2035”.
Founders Ashwin Ramachandran and Abigail Tuscano curate and sell sustainable and ethical high-fashion brands from around the world, and plant a tree for every sale made.
“We’re focused on building a community, because merely taking about change is starting to get a little boring,” they state.
“We curate brands that not just preserve local weaving traditions and pay fair wages, but also make you look like the boss you truly are, all whilst minimising the usage of natural resources and synthetics.”
Now, before you buy something to wear on your return to the office, you should always stop and ask yourself if you really need it — after all, we tend to wear 20 per cent of our clothes, 80 per cent of the time.
“Next time you’re about to make a purchase, stop and think,” the COVID Fashion Report’s authors implored.
“A garment is touched by almost 100 pairs of hands before it arrives in a store or on your doorstep.
“Is the item a necessity — something you absolutely need? How often are you likely to wear it? Is it likely to still be in style next year, or the year after?”
Following these principles is sure to put you in good stead, no matter where you work from — or how comfy the clothes you choose to wear are.