The pandemic changed us on so many levels. One level I have seen up close is how it has changed what we wear. I have been working a lot as we all try to move towards trying to create some sense of normalcy despite the Delta variant sweeping through the country and it has given me a great perspective on what women are looking for in terms of work clothes. Clients who used to come to me for their tried and true shift dresses and pumps looks are telling me they may never wear heels again and clients who wouldn’t be caught dead in elastic waist pants are wearing them to work. Women may be looking forward to some sense of dressing again but they’re not willing to let go of comfort, and they shouldn’t have to.
The pandemic was hard on women. It put a spotlight on just how unlevel the playing field is between women and their male counterparts given how many women chose to off-ramp in favor of caring for families during COVID-19 or lost their jobs. Unemployment skyrocketed for women and predictions are that it will take years for the numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels. It became glaringly obvious that workplaces need to change to support the needs of their female workers. To this I say, ladies, the time is ripe to make our list of demands. We have known the inequalities found in the workplace long before it was talked about and for years women did the equivalent of that famous quote about Ginger Rogers doing the same moves as Fred Astaire, only backward and in heels.
So what I like about this time is how women have become more selective and more demanding about what their work-life will look like and what they will wear to do it. After speaking to my clients and some members of my Facebook Group, here are some things women are embracing and giving up wearing post-pandemic.
WHAT WOMEN ARE EMBRACING AND GIVING UP WEARING POST-PANDEMIC
Giving Up- Heels
Embracing- Flats and Sneakers
By now, the heels in most women’s closets have dust on them. I wore heeled sandals once a few months ago and my hips hurt for days. Not only are we out of practice, but we’re also disinterested in going back to toddling around in them. Nobody is debating that heels aren’t pretty, it’s just that we’ve gotten a taste of comfort and now it’s hard to go back.
Women are looking for shoes they can move in, are designed for comfort, and won’t damage their feet. They’re embracing professional looks with sneakers, not in a Melanie Griffith Working Girl way, but in an updated modern way. More than ever clients are asking for loafers. Not clunky, mannish loafers, but sleek, feminine elegant styles, and the only heels my clients seem willing to wear are sturdy block heels with a maximum heel of 1 1/2″.
Giving Up- Pencil Skirts
Embracing- Flowier Skirts
I was working through a client’s closet when we came to a pencil skirt that she had in her closet for years and never wore. She asked to keep it in case corporate ever comes back, to which I replied, “corporate isn’t coming back.” There will always be some version of corporate style but it has been evolving towards something less stiff and rigid, particularly for my client who doesn’t even work in a corporate environment.
Women don’t want to pour themselves into their clothing any longer or worry about every lump and bump. They want movement and range of motion and they’re done with wrestling with shapewear. More on that below.
Giving Up- Pants with Buttons and Zippers
Embracing- Elastic Waist Pants
You can’t expect women to go a year of living in joggers and leggings to just turn around and zip and button themselves into pants, can you? It goes back to comfort and how strongly it took hold of all of us during the lockdown. The pandemic proved that you don’t need to be uncomfortable to get the job done so it’s hard to argue the point for strongly tailored clothing if there are equally suitable options that can be comfortably pulled on. The good news is, you can find all sorts of easy-on pants that covertly play the role of trousers and fashion has responded to the call for comfort by women and are offering many styles that wear like tailored pants but have elastic waists.
Giving Up- Dry Clean Only Clothes
Embracing- Washable Workwear
There are so many reasons why women are giving up dry clean only clothing. First of all, even prior to the pandemic nobody liked frequent slogs to the dry cleaner. Second, we’re all burnt out with very little in our reserves. If we can cut out anything extraneous we will, and during normal times, we could muster the energy to do extra chores and errands. But now? Everything feels like more work than it used to. Third, we’ve all become clean freaks. A big request I got when the world was just starting to open last year was for washable work clothing because many women felt more comfortable immediately putting their clothes in the wash. Lastly, we’re all just more conscious of how bad dry cleaning is and want to minimize it as much as possible.
Giving Up- Scarves
Embracing- Masks (Sort of)
Speaking about the U.S., I realize that in some parts of the country mask-wearing hasn’t been as strongly enforced or embraced as in others. My feelings about that aside, where I live, we’re still strong mask wearers and while the rules were relaxed for a short while over the summer, once the Delta Variant started spreading, masks went back on indoors. When you wear a mask, it changes how you accessorize, not to mention your makeup (lipstick, how I miss you.) It just doesn’t seem like a time to be using scarves as heavily, particularly if you keep your mask on a chain or if you choose masks in prints and patterns. The other reason why scarves are falling out of favor is because of our desire to dress as unfussy as we possibly can.
Of course, scarves still have a strong place for video meetings so it’s not a time to eliminate them completely. You may just notice with everything else near your face when you leave the house that winding a scarf around your neck just feels like another thing to add.
Giving Up- Long Earrings
Embracing- Studs and Small Hoops
Raise your hand if you have removed your mask and either a long earring got stuck on the mask or it flung clear across the room? Statement earrings and masks don’t mix well and like the issue with scarves, there’s just a lot going on around the face. Also, similarly with scarves, longer earrings can be great for Zoom meetings or times you don’t need to be masked. Just make sure you have some studs to wear when you’ll be wearing a mask and don’t want your earrings to get caught.
Giving Up- Suits
Embracing- Suited Separates
Suits lack the ease that we all are looking for in our work clothes these days. Not all my clients are completely off them but there are usually conditions attached to them. The first is that clients who need them are in positions where they are traveling to situations where a suit would be a good mix-and-match option which leads to the second condition, suits that clients are buying these days have to also work broken apart and worn as separates. The classic corporate suit look, however, is dead for now.
Giving Up- Shapewear
Embracing- Forgving Clothing
Let’s face it, there is no love lost with letting this one go. Shapewear falls into the heels category where women are asking themselves, why the heck is discomfort required of women to look professional? Many of us have COVID weight and instead of pouring ourselves into shapewear, women are looking to alternatives found in clothing that is more forgiving. Shapewear is something women have become more selective about wearing. If there is a more comfortable alternative that will camouflage our lumps and bumps, women are taking it.
Nobody lives in extremes and it would be hyperbolic on my part to imply that we will never wear heels, shapewear, scarves, or bold earrings again. However, it is accurate to say that the way we are all approaching fashion has been changed and we’re reconsidering and reprioritizing our fashion choices now that the world is so different than it was pre-pandemic. Have you noticed a change in your work fashion priorities? I’d love to hear about them.
SUBSCRIBE TO BRIDGETTE'S WEEKLY STYLE UPDATES
RECEIVE A FREE WARDROBE CAPSULE BUILDER GUIDE WHEN YOU SUBSCRIBE
Elastic waist pants aren’t for me. With a tiny space between the bottom of my rib cage and the top of my pelvic bones, these pants fold into a lump or fill the space with gathers, widening what waist curve I have into even more of a rectangle. And, some pull-on styles have elastic so strong, the pants are tougher to pull up than free weights. My preference, still easy and comfy, is a no-waistband pant with a side zipper like Talbot’s Chatham with some elastic in the fabric for stretchiness.
I don’t think elastic waist pants are for everyone and I am glad you found an alternative. I was convinced they weren’t for me either but I found a few styles that I like. Bottom line is, we’re all looking for ways to be comfortable while not looking like we’ve given up completely and it sounds to me like you’ve found that for yourself!
100% agree with everything you said, and I love your term “business comfortable”.
I’m sitting in my office today in jeans, a tee shirt, sneakers, and topped with a polished cardigan. Perfectly comfortable and Zoom appropriate! I have enough stress at work now, and just want to be as comfortable as possible, without being sloppy.
The Cole Haan sneakers with oxford details went straight in my shopping basket!
Love to hear this Carol! I am glad you found a way to make it work while being comfortable and appropriate. I always feel immediate stress relief when I find easy solutions to stressful situations that don’t make me feel I am giving up. How to be comfortable without looking sloppy sounds like a good future blog post idea!
This post totally speaks to me! I went from formal “full suits” and occasional suited looks 4 days a week and no jeans to 100% WFH with possible quarterly travel coming up. I’m still trying to figure out what to keep since some travel will require formal suits and others will require suited looks. Maybe just my BOSS suits that I invested a lot in and tailored and some colorful blazers. It is hard to let go of the idea that I might need to keep everything “just in case!”
But now that I am almost exclusively WFH, I have shifted to new purchases must be machine washable and just started tossing my silk tops in the machine on gentle cycle (and they are turning out fine). While I have some joggers and pull on pants, I find I feel more “on point” in structured pants or jeans, which also remind me to keep up my exercise program, lol. Flats are not comfortable for me so I do wear shoes with some height at home but they are all block heels and not very high – just helps put me in the “I am working” mindset. I will however wear my high heels with suits since I just like the look and am not uncomfortable wearing them.
So funny what you said about putting silk blouses in the wash. I recently did that with one of mine and it turned out just fine. Maybe it was a dry cleaning conspiracy!! I think it’s a good idea to hang onto that BOSS suit. It sounds like it fits you well and you may need it. Plus, you could break it apart. The blazers you could use with jeans or to dress up a more casual look. Flats can be uncomfortable for many women and the small heel height is actually better if you have problems like plantar fasciitis.
Yes to all of this! Like you, I miss lipstick. But I particularly miss wearing earrings. With short hair, I have so many pairs I love, but they’re just too much hassle with a mask. I almost lost a favorite and then gave up and went to studs.
I have given up on so much jewelry. Everything just feels like a lot of work and if I still had short hair I know I would be missing statement earrings a lot more than I do now.
Thank you so much for this article! In my part of the world (Western Australia), we have been completely blessed (so far) in terms of the very few COVID related health issues and associated lockdowns. However, I think everyone is enjoying the freedom of less in-person meetings, meaning office days are less formal. I would love an article some time on on appropriate silhouettes for flat shoes – i.e. best pant shape / skirt shape / length for different shoes.
Hello from the Northern Hemisphere! I did a post a few years ago on heel heights and shoes that might help a bit. https://www.bridgetteraes.com/2017/03/13/best-heel-heights-skirts/
I agree with you for the most part, however, I still wear larger earrings. And yes, I had them entangled in my mask. I really need them, as without large earrings to balance it, my nose just looks too big.
Also, when weather gets cold again, scarves are good to keep you warm.
I was really worried that there would be a backlash and these fashion designers would force upon us tight and rigid clothing with mega heels. Wearing uncomfortable clothes makes no sense. This is kind of a weird thing to say but I’ve noted pre-Covid that the futuristic tv shows would show women wearing the same outfits that were more about function (pockets!) (quick dry materials!) and I wished that was the norm today. Covid sucked but I’m glad it accelerated fashion in this direction.