As Americans slowly return to the office, they are rethinking their clothing choices at work.
After two years of working from home in exercise clothes, many people now want to be comfortable while looking professional in the office. Some people are experimenting with new looks. And companies are trying to keep up with the demand for “business comfort” clothing.
Kay Martin-Pence works for a drug company in Indianapolis. The 58-year-old used to wear structured business clothes, like dress pants and blazers, and high-heel shoes to work before the pandemic. Now she wears comfortable clothes, including stylish jeans and flowing shirts, along with lower-heel shoes.
"Being comfortable is more important than being super structured," said Martin-Pence. She added that she will never wear dress pants to the office again.
Adam Galinsky is a social psychologist at Columbia Business School. He studies the connection between what people wear and how they think. Galinsky said that people will knowingly think about what they will wear to the office. They may compare themselves to others and think about the situation they are in.
He said that back-to-work clothes are still a social experiment and the decision of what to wear could go either way. "My guess is that it will go more casual, but maybe it doesn't," Galinsky said.
Clothing companies are also seeing the changing demand.
The market research NPD Group reported that wire-free bras, a type of women’s support wear, are more than 50 percent of the total non-sports bra market in the U.S. This is a big change from prior years.
The most common kind of shoe for the workplace is sneakers. And even though sales of dress shoes have increased slightly, sales are still 34 percent lower than in 2019. The increase is likely to come from more social gatherings and not workplaces.
Rent the Runway, a rental clothing company, said that rentals of blazers are two times higher than last year because people are returning to work. But people are choosing more colorful and lightweight clothes. Traditional business wear rentals are still down by about 50 percent compared to pre-pandemic rentals.
For men, there is an increase in sports pants for office wear, the personal shopping company Stitch Fix said. From January to March of 2022, money from sales of those styles increased three times. There is a high demand for comfortable shirts and pull-on pants. Now there are more pants with stretchy waistbands on the Stitch Fix website than buttons or zippers.
Brooks Brothers produced few casual clothes before the pandemic. Now the 200-year-old company has 45 percent of its offerings in casual sportswear.
Ken Ohashi is the new owner of Brook Brothers. He says that colorful and comfortable clothes are here to stay for men.
As more workers want to feel comfortable in their work clothes, some are excited to dress up again.
One such worker is 42-year-old Emily Kirchner of Stevensville, Michigan. She said she is spending money on new clothes that include blue jeans, shirts, and even blazers. As a mother of a young child, she wants to feel her best when she leaves the house.
"It's kind of fun to dress up,” Kirchner said. “It's kind of like that back-to-school feeling."
I’m Faith Pirlo.
The Associated Press writers Anne D’Innocenzio and David Sharp reported this story. Faith Pirlo adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
comfortable – adj. not causing any physically unpleasant feelings; producing physical comfort
pants – n. a piece of clothing that covers your body from the waist to the ankle and has a separate part for each leg
blazer – n. a less formal jacket worn on the body
stylish – adj. fashionable and attractive
psychologist – n. someone who has studied the human mind and feelings
casual – adj. not formal
sneakers – n. cloth shoes that are worn for informal times and for sports
rental – adj. related to renting; paying money to be able to use someone else’s property
zipper – n. a device on clothing and bags that is made of two rows of metal or plastic teeth and another piece that slides over the teeth to make them fit together
buttons – n. small disks attached to an article of clothing and used as a clasp by passing it through a hole or loop
What do you think of the American worker’s casual clothes after the pandemic?