In a world reeling from COVID-19 shutdowns, our daily routines have shifted to accommodate transformations in our professional and personal lives.
Those of us who went into an office before the pandemic enjoyed loosening restrictions on workplace attire. When your workplace is also your living room, though, business casual gets more and more casual.
What’s out in business casual attire?
Like almost every other part of life, business attire will look different in a post-COVID world. A handful of ‘Zoom boom’ trends are here to stay, while relics of office dress code from a waning generation will not survive the months of working from home.
So what attire is out, and what trends are roaring in?
New day, new tie
In many workplaces, ties have already phased out for the most part. A well-matched tie can be a useful accessory for a sleek, business-casual style, but ties as a statement of professionalism are increasingly outdated. Doing good work, it turns out, is more important than keeping your collar tight.
Say goodbye to your packed tie rack, and scale back your most flashy or unique ties. Keep a handful of minimalist essentials — solid color-ties that will match a number of outfits and add that formal flair when you need it most.
Heels and dress shoes
Unless you’re in the habit of wearing shoes around the house, your dress shoes have probably gathered dust during your stint of working from home. And unless you’re propping your feet up during video calls (which we don’t recommend), your shoes no longer factor into your outfits.
In the past, shoes were a critical part of your workplace presentation. Your boss would notice the shine and properly-knotted laces of a sleek dress shoe, while heels command power and complete your color palette. But heels are also a pain and appear increasingly unnecessary when you’re only on-camera from the waist up.
Suits and sport coats
‘Dress for the job you want’ was once a mantra that dictated wearing suits to even entry-level office jobs, but the tide turned on suits long before COVID-19. Even some of the world’s biggest companies like Facebook and Google have famously scaled back requirements on business attire.
Sporting a suit around the workplace will probably raise eyebrows, and if you’re working from home it’s just plain unnecessary. Even sports jackets, a useful accessory in cooler weather, may fall out of favor amid a fall season spent indoors.
In the summer of social distancing, flowing dresses take up space and make a statement while also making it easier to keep six feet of distance between you and your neighbors. And with an increasing focus on comfort, loose bottoms that let your body breathe make the perfect outfit for your remote workday, masked grocery runs, or socially-distanced hangouts.
There’s a time and place for every kind of office attire, but dresses are attention-grabbing. Your colleagues will start to recognize your looks, and it’s harder to accessorize with dresses to create varied outfits. When you combine comfort with style, the possibilities are endless.
Full beat makeup
Between finding time to balance the blurred demands of work and life, attending most work functions through Zoom, and wearing a mask when you do leave the house, who wants to bother with a full face of makeup?
A light foundation barely shows up through your webcam, and yet women with heavier makeup can be heavily scrutinized. As the pandemic throws our priorities into sharp relief, makeup feels low on the list of things to worry about with each new day. Shockingly, a woman’s workplace presentation does not hinge on her winged tips and painted lips.
Yoga pants/sweatpants/gym shorts
Plenty of workplace “gurus” will advise you to skip the stretchy pants even if you’re working from your couch, but it won’t stop the latest workplace trend. Sweatpants, leggings, and other athleisure have become increasingly mainstream in-home office outfits, and for good reason — they are comfortable and easy to throw on, making clothes one less thing to stress about.
Some workplaces may push for a return to traditional business casual wear as workers return to the office, but others will encourage comfort and flexibility over presentation. Plus, as the pandemic stretches on, odds are you’ll end up working from home at least part of the time for the foreseeable future.
Statement necklaces, earrings, and brooches
Nail polish, rings, and bracelets are only on camera for seconds at a time, offering your colleagues a fleeting view of your style. Trade them out for necklaces, earrings, hair clips, and other accessories that accent your head and shoulders.
With fashion statements increasingly limited to small squares on the computer screen, go for bold pieces that brazenly complement your top, skin tone, and hairstyle. Most important of all are your pearly whites — flash a beaming smile while your bold earrings glint to guarantee that all eyes are on you.
Dark denim was already edging its way into acceptable business casual, and as we all return to work from the pandemic, we’ll take our favorite jeans with us. Judging from the prevalence of sweatpants, jeans are certainly a step up in your casual work-from-home outfit. But even in the office, you can layer a stylish shirt and sleek shoes over a crisp pair of jeans for a sharp look.
For many people, especially those with small teams or those who are out and about, jeans with comfortable shoes make more sense than dressing up. Erring on the casual side of business casual really depends on the workplace, but denim will almost certainly be more prevalent after the pandemic.
With budgets tightening and unnecessary purchases being put on hold, expect to see a shift toward timeless looks that call back on vintage trends. Fashion designers and clothing outlets across the board have reported nosediving interest in recent months as priorities shift toward the bare necessities.
Amid your own pandemic closet purge, don’t be afraid to think creatively about how you can upcycle old looks before hitting the shops. You’d be surprised how much mileage you can get out of a basic old t-shirt or cardigan with simple touches of modern twists.
They went from a rarity to staple in just a few weeks, and no matter what the pandemic has in store for us next, face masks are here to stay — so why not make the best of it? Retailers anticipate that face masks will be the it-gift during this year’s holiday season, so start dropping hints about which mask colors and patterns would match your typical outfits.
As many of us return to the workplace, face masks will almost certainly be mandatory in public spaces. You’ll need to grab your mask when you run across the street for lunch, or when you take the metro home. You might as well turn your face mask into an accessory that makes a statement and completes your business casual style profile.