Will the petering out of work-from-home policies be the beginning of a new work dress code? A new survey from Wrangler’s and Lee’s parent company, Kontoor Brands, points to a resounding yes with denim, of course, being the foundation to consumers’ new work uniform.
Though the casualization of work attire has been ongoing for decades, the pandemic introduced a new level of casualness that bordered on sleepwear. The instantaneous and unprecedented demand for comfortable at-home fashion touched every category, driving brands that would normally focus on all the trappings needed in a work wardrobe to pivot their production to nap dresses, joggers, house shoes and wireless bras.
The results of Kontoor’s survey, conducted by KRC Research, however, signals a gradual shift to pre-pandemic fashion—one that combines professionalism and comfort.
“Our clothing is an extension of us, and during this time of uncertainty, people are buying and wearing clothes that make them feel more comfortable,” said Scott Baxter, Kontoor Brands president and CEO. “While office workers may have sacrificed comfort in the past, they now want to check all the boxes when selecting their return-to-office wardrobe.”
Of the 1,006 adults surveyed, 85 percent expect their office will have a business-casual dress code, but the definition of “business casual” appears to be evolving. Fewer people (36 percent) plan to wear dress pants or dress skirts when they return to the office. Sweatpants and joggers will also be more prevalent, with 15 percent of office workers expecting to wear them back to work.
Denim, despite being relegated to the back of closets during the majority of 2020, stands a strong chance to emerge as the new go-to work wardrobe. Nearly four in 10 workers surveyed said they expect to wear jeans to the office, and 82 percent indicated they plan to buy new jeans in the next 12 months.
Its positive news compared to the NPD Group’s estimate that 1.8 million consumers over the age of 18 didn’t purchase a single piece of clothing last year.
As for the reasons behind the demand for new denim, respondents said their current jeans were old or worn-out or think buying new jeans would “brighten their mood.” Meanwhile, another 32 percent said they’ll buy new jeans because the ones in their closet no longer fit.
Indeed, the desire for new and more current fashion is not the only reason denim brands are anticipating a “new denim cycle.” NPD recently reported that nearly 40 percent of women are now wearing a different size compared to one year ago. While 15 percent of the women said they are a size smaller, 25 percent report now wearing a larger size.
Jeans are also viewed as an essential off-duty item. The survey found office workers expect their clothes to provide for an easy transition from the office to events. For example, 73 percent said they’re likely to wear jeans for a night out with friends, while 63 percent plan to wear jeans on dates. A surprising 31 percent said they even plan to wear jeans to more formal events like weddings.
The apparel industry, in general, is poised to see brighter days ahead. Kontoor reported that 84 percent of workers surveyed said “a wardrobe refresh is in order,” and on average, these consumers plan to spend $445 on new clothes.
The survey echoes the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) new outlook for the year that projects retail sales will grow between 10.5 percent and 13.5 percent—the fastest growth the U.S. has seen since 1984—thanks in part to the vaccination distribution putting millions back to work.