Move over, loungewear. Farewell slippers. Streetwear, you’ve had a good run. The next-in demand genre of fashion may be office attire.
As the U.S. continues to reopen, people are stepping out of their pandemic wardrobe of sweats, house dresses and novelty prints, and looking for new ways to refresh their style for work, events and travel for the first time in over 16 months.
In the past few months, U.S. department store chain Nordstrom reports that there has been a 165 percent increase in customer searches for “work clothes” on its e-commerce site.
The retailer recently conducted a survey in the U.S. with 2,000 people to explore how Covid has affected their fashion choices as they begin to plan for life post-pandemic. The pressure that comes with returning to social settings is mounting for many consumers. While comfort and convenience played large roles in how people dressed during the pandemic, a cascade of other factors is posing new wardrobe challenges.
Echoing recent NPD Group data that found nearly 40 percent of women are now wearing a different size compared to one year ago, Nordstrom reported that 45 percent of consumers say they “struggle to find clothes that are flattering for their body type” and 43 percent “struggle to find clothes that fit.”
In general, Nordstrom’s research found that most people feel like they have nothing to wear coming out of the pandemic and that they are looking for styling guidance when it comes to occasion dressing. Some consumers (35 percent) say they feel bored with the clothes they currently own and others (25 percent) say their clothes feel outdated. Meanwhile, 40 percent say they “feel stuck in their personal style.”
With one in five consumers naming sweatpants, yoga pants or leggings as “their most treasured item” during the pandemic, and nearly one in four naming T-shirts their quarantine go-to, it should come as no surprise that one in three consumers say they feel stuck in a “style limbo.”
Though occasion dressing its daunting for some consumers, it poses new opportunities for a depressed retail sector that stands a chance to not only supply consumers with new fashion but also help them curate their new look.
More than one-quarter of those surveyed by Nordstrom said their personal style changed during the pandemic. While 26 percent of people say they no longer care about keeping up with trends, 35 percent say they are more open to trying new styles, Nordstrom reported.
The denim category is already experiencing this sense of experimentation. Executives from category leaders like Levi’s and American Eagle have reported a growing interest in looser fits. Simultaneously, Gen Z’s so-called takedown of skinny jeans played out on TikTok earlier this year.
Indeed, social media remains a large source of fashion inspiration for 30 percent of consumers surveyed by Nordstrom. Platforms like Pinterest, Instagram and TikTok are known to stir up party, footwear, wedding and travel style trends. Office fashion, however, is more challenging with 20 percent of consumers saying they are looking for help finding looks for work.
Work wardrobes are certainly ripe for a refresh—36 percent of people say they haven’t bought new work clothing since before the pandemic. For those planning to return to an office this fall, many are excited to get out of their “comfort” zone and say yes to dress pants (28 percent), dress shirts (28 percent) and dresses (26 percent).
The reopening of offices is igniting debates on what’s deemed appropriate attire in a new post-pandemic world, particularly as many companies transition into a hybrid home/office model.
Retail analytics firm Edited recently identified new themes in work fashion to watch in the coming months as consumers adjust, spanning traditional looks updated with culotte pant suits and subtle details like exaggerated buttons or split hems, to “workleisure” basics like sweater vests, wide-leg trousers and elevated T-shirts.
Workleisure is bound to resonate with comfort-craving consumers. Nordstrom reported that 41 percent of consumers say that after the pandemic they plan to “dress comfortably for the rest of their life.”