Smith Brain Trust / June 24, 2021

Pajamas vs Pantsuits: The New Work Attire

How Office Fashion is Evolving

What’s the right look for returning to the workplace? Professional or casual? The answer is both, according to Maryland Smith’s Jie Zhang and P.K. Kannan.

In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Zhang and Kannan discussed the evolution of work attire after 15 months of many professionals working from home and weighed in on the ongoing debate on what to wear to the office.

For those returning soon, a shopping trip is in order and that spells good news for retailers looking to bounce back from the pandemic, said Zhang. But this time, consumers aren’t willing to sacrifice comfort for aesthetics just yet, especially not after becoming accustomed to wearing what they wanted over the last year, she said.

”They’re not expecting to sell many suits and ties and high heels,” said Zhang, professor of marketing and the Harvey Sanders Fellow of Retail Management at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “They’re going to sell clothing that is more casual; not sloppy, but more comfortable.”

One example of that compromise comes in the form of yoga dress pants, said Zhang, which abide by corporate dress codes while providing a pleasant fit. It’s a product that she herself has bought into from experience, she said.

For Kannan, dean's chair in marketing science and associate dean for strategic initiatives, his work-from-home outfits often included a collared shirt with a blazer. But just out of view of that webcam, at times, were shorts or comfortable pants because of the convenience of being at home.

With employees expected to split time between teleworking and occasionally going back into the office, Kannan said that the best clothing will be that which is appropriate for both settings.

Over these next few years, this style could persist through multiple fashion cycles as employees gradually reenter the workplace, Kannan said. However, fields like banking and law, which demand formal attire, will likely return to normal sooner than others.

“If you’re going to be meeting a client, will you wear a hoodie?” said Kannan.

Read More: “Baltimore-area women come face-to-face with an old foe after a year of pandemic: the underwire bra”.

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