Passengers, most of whom wear face masks, travel on the L train system at the Loop on July 27, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson | Getty Images
Johnny Reynolds has spent part of his stipend at Lululemon lately. Not for the gym, but in preparation for his return to the office.
The 27-year-old Philadelphia area public relations professional looks forward to reuniting with his colleagues after Labor Day. Instead of going to the clothing section of the nearest store, she fills her new closet with Lululemon clothes.
“They have button-down shirts, blazers, polo shirts – basically a closet full of comfortable, professional-looking clothes,” Reynolds said. “He never plans to wear a suit for a meeting.”
When Americans slowly return to the office, many adopt a style similar to Reynolds’s that is increasingly called “workleisure” – a more laid back version of athleisure clothing that many already wear from the gym to the grocery store.
For women and men, it means that pants – even denim – stretch wider thanks to generous elastic waistbands. The tops are not hidden, and the links are optional. Women gravitate toward skirts and dresses that feel more comfortable than pants that fit the shape. Sneakers – not heels – are always in the mix.
This also means where people buy clothes as they evolve. Companies like Lululemon and Athleta will benefit when consumers mix athletic-type clothing in their back-to-work closets. Pairing Lululemon’s iconic ABC Pant with a jacket is a common example for men. Brands and department store chains, such as Nordstrom, that are associated with pre-pandemic office cabinets are pivoting fast to include more casual options among fall merchandise.
While clothing categories including clothing and shirts, such as polo shirts and tunics, are expected to grow to double digits this year over last year, business clothing will grow only about 8%, according to the research firm. of the Euromonitor market.
Last year, dozens of retail chains demanded bankruptcy protection and thousands of stores were closed – including a large number of clothing chains such as J.Crew, Brooks Brothers, the owner of Tailored Men’s Wearhouse Brands and Loft parent Ascena. The shock has left consumers with fewer options while planning their expenses back to the office.
“The category of workwear is declining,” said Erin Schmidt, senior analyst at Coresight Research, a global consulting and research firm specializing in sales and technology. “It’s no longer really a category. It was a dress from Monday to Thursday, and then casual Fridays, and those were clearly defined.”
“The consumer is now reinventing what it means,” Schmidt said. “Consumers are rewriting that definition of work clothes. And it might take some time for employers to understand that.”
Stacked sterling is also pushing consumers to the mall for new clothes. Those who gained weight during the pandemic may also gravitate toward flattering and more forgiving clothing. Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss, said recently that the denim manufacturer estimates that about 35% of American belts have been modified in the last year.
Aaron Cutler, a partner at law firm Hogan Lovells in Washington, DC, said he won’t buy any new clothes until he drops his “Covid pounds.”
“It’s still pretty casual in the office, but once customer meetings resume, then you might need some closet upgrades,” Cutler, 41, said. “I’ll probably venture into some magazines. Human interaction will be good for me.”
Meanwhile, Rahim Adatia, 47, said he has lost about £ 25 since last March so far. The Facebook product director in San Francisco said he did shopping in Fila and Ted Baker for clothes to fit his now reduced size.
People enter the Goldman Sachs headquarters in New York, United States, on Monday, June 14, 2021.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Whether it’s the desire for new styles, or the need for new sizes, clothing sales have been growing, month after month. Transactions in clothing and apparel accessories stores in the United States have grown 47.1% in June since June 2020, according to the latest data from the Department of Commerce. And from April 2021 to June this year, clothing sales increased by 162.9% compared to the same period a year ago, the department said.
But the dollars have not been evenly distributed around.
According to a separate analysis by Coresight Research and Euromonitor, the share of clothing apparel in the total U.S. apparel market fell to 24.8% last year from 31.5% in 2019, since apparel casual like sweatpants and pajamas reigned supreme. Coresight defines the wear of clothing as any formal accessories, clothing and footwear, including blazers and clothing intended to be worn at work.
For the rest of this year and into 2022, Coresight and Euromonitor predict that the casual clothing market will dominate total clothing spending. Even when people go back to socializing and attending events like weddings and birthday parties.
Greg Shugar, owner of Beau Ties in Vermont and founder and former CEO of Tie Bar, is concerned about what the change will mean for his business and for others in the industry.
“Our numbers are extremely low on suitable clothing,” Shugar said. “Our customers who are very loyal have told us, ‘I’m not going to go back to work,’ or ‘I’m just done bringing ties.’ And that embraces all generations.”
During the pandemic, Shugar changed the make-up to make facial masks, which helped his company go through some of the toughest months. Recently, he said, mask sales have begun to plummet, as the delta variant presents an increased risk for Covid spreading across the country.
Greg Shugar, owner of Beau Ties in Vermont and founder and former CEO of Tie Bar, began selling masks during the pandemic to try to make up for lost sales.
Source: Greg Shugar
“The tailored clothing industry has already suffered enough and is now in a bad mood,” Shugar said. “And it’s not going back to the way some people think it is.”
Already a few companies, including costume designer Brooks Brothers, have begun to turn around. When it came out of bankruptcy, the brand was acquired by Sparc, a joint venture between Authentic Brands Group and the owner of the Simon Property Group shopping center. Last year, the Brooks Brothers debuted their first collection of sporty and casual clothing. The Banana Republic, which is owned by Gap, also recently launched a coated athleisure called BR Sport.
“There are big implications for retailers and producers on the assortment side,” said Kristin Kohler Burrows, senior director of Alvarez & Marsal Consumer and Retail Group, a global consultancy specializing in business transformation.
“Retailers definitely need to have more casual items,” he said. “What customers don’t want to sacrifice is to feel comfortable in their clothes.”
MMLaFleur, a professional clothing brand for women, calls the new office wardrobe a form of “hybrid clothing”.
The retailer now offers a weekly guide on their website for clothing options, as their customers prepare for the “new normal”. “Sometimes it can be hard trying to get dressed for the office, and work from home,” the blog reads.
On Monday, she suggested a more casual look – a “jardigan” (half jacket, half cardigan) and sneakers – to work from home after the weekend. Tuesday requires a higher appearance for a day at the office, according to MMLaFleur. But come Wednesday, you’re back home in a cozy sweater.
“The more you sit in the office, and the more white-collar office work you have, the more commercial items you will have in your closet mix,” Burrows said. “But not as much as you had before the pandemic.”
MMLaFleur envisions a world where many office workers split their time between home and office. The spread of the highly contagious delta variant, which causes a surge in new Covid cases, also raises the possibility of delaying the return to work plans, or a situation where employees work from the office when cases are low. and retire home when homes grow.
Lands ’End clothing company saw higher demand for its active clothing and swimwear this summer. According to CEO Jerome Griffith, sales of sleepwear and shirts with knitted and elastic fabrics are also strong compared to other categories.
“People are a little more comfortable in their work environments, whether they’re at home or in the office, and you don’t get to see those trends change,” Griffith said in an interview. “People will never be less comfortable.”
This is what people say they buy while they return, or plan to return, to the office.
Liza Amlani, 46, sales strategist in Canada:
The leggings never go away. I see a lot of it, for myself and when I meet with clients, because I start to meet with people whose backyards are open.
People aren’t really in their heels, though. I wore cones the other day, so I’m happy with that.
Jason Press, 48, general manager at a car shop in Chicago:
We are back to normal. It’s all a business suit at Murgado Automotive.
I just bought the Nordstrom Anniversary sale, one of the few stores that still has real business clothes, clothes and ties. His inventory went fast. … I bought Ferragamo shoes. I have a whole lot more casual and casual business, and I now need an additional real business workshop, so that was the focus. My wife and children also bought it.
Sean Long, 34, is a research associate at an investment management firm in St. Louis. Louis, Missouri:
From May, we go back to casual business from Monday to Thursday, and then we can wear jeans on Friday – assuming we don’t have business or customer meetings where a different dress code is guaranteed.
Business meetings, for the most part, I haven’t noticed any links to. I suspect that once meetings in person and more presentations, the links will return.
My wife and I didn’t do a lot of window shopping; we only went to two stores, either they had it or they didn’t have it and we left.
Gene Miller, 48, public relations professional in Indianapolis, Indiana:
The first day I went back to the office after Covid-19 restrictions and parental leave, and I wore a new dress.
We have a dress code that is business casual. I also lost £ 15. I bought the sales J.Crew, Banana Republic, Gap and Nordstrom.
Manjul Gupta, 38, an associate professor at Florida International University:
When I realized I had to go teach a business course at MBAs, the first thing I opened my closet to look for was my jacket.
I like Express, Banana Republic, and occasionally Macy’s. I hate to say it, but Amazon still has it all. I’ve used Amazon Wardrobe in the past.