In the News: ‘Comfort is king’: Workers are returning to the office but formal wear isn’t following suit

June 30, 2022 | Hamilton, ON
Contributed by Joshua Chong, Toronto Star

Business professionals are heading back to the office but formal workplace attire isn’t following suit.

After two years of anything goes work-from-home wear, employees are defying archaic dress codes and looking for casual and versatile outfits as they return to the office, say fashion followers.

Menswear, in particular, is seeing a seismic shift in trends, with elevated sportswear, casual jackets and other hybrid attire entering the office, while ties, suits and dress shoes clock out, says Adam Percival, national made-to-measure and sales training leader at luxury menswear retailer Harry Rosen.

“One thing that COVID taught everybody is that comfort is king,” said Percival.

A survey of more than 500 office workers in Canada and the U.S. by digital media company Captivate appears to back that up. It found that more than half of those who responded said every day is starting to feel like Casual Friday.

About 43 per cent of employees working from the office or in a hybrid environment indicated they are seeing more jeans in the office; 28 per cent said more colleagues are wearing T-shirts; and seven per cent noticed more pyjamas in the workplace compared with before the pandemic. Five per cent of respondents said people are dressing more formally than before.

Customers are looking for clothes that are versatile and can be worn for more than one occasion, Percival said, noting casual attire — such as safari jackets and sports jackets — is making a comeback among working professionals. Jean-style trousers made of grey or tan cotton rather than denim are also gaining traction, he said.

Percival believes the changes in how and where we are working, especially with the rise of hybrid work models, are affecting how white-collar workers dress for their day.

Michael Starr, owner of Jerome’s Menswear in midtown Toronto, said comfort and stretch have become more important for his clients in recent months. While many men still enjoy wearing a full suit, some are loosening the top button of their collar and ditching their ties.

For some business professionals, the shift to more casual workplace attire is simply to save money, said Catherine Connelly, a Canada Research Chair and human resources and management professor at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business.

With the cost of living ever increasing and inflation at rates not seen since the 1980s, “the idea of having an entirely separate wardrobe for work can be really expensive,” especially if employees are not working at the office full-time, Connelly said.

Tailored suits often require dry cleaning, which is another added expense, said Connelly, while casual attire can be washed at home.

What has been considered appropriate dress for the office has changed throughout the decades.

In the 1990s, the so-called “dot-com boom” brought in a new generation of professionals in the tech industry “who pioneered jeans, T-shirts and sometimes shorts in office environments,” said Navarro Delgado.

The Casual Friday movement also became more widely accepted during that period, said Connelly. “Initially, the idea was you would pay $1 for the right to wear jeans on Friday, and that dollar would go to either a charity or towards the company holiday party,” she said.

Read the full article in the Toronto Star.

Catherine Connelly headshot

Catherine Connelly

Professor, Human Resources & Management

Dr. Catherine Connelly holds a Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Organizational Behaviour, and is a Member Emeritus of the College of New Scholars of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC). She is a former associate editor for Human Relations and currently serves on several editorial boards including the Journal of Organizational BehaviorHuman Resource Management Review, the Academy of Management Discoveries journal, and Human Resource Management. Her research focuses on the attitudes, behaviours, and experiences of non-standard workers (e.g., temporary agency workers, contractors, temporary foreign workers), the effects of leadership styles on leader well-being, and knowledge hiding in organizations. Catherine also conducts applied research with several Canadian organizations in both the private and non-profit sector. In addition to her research success, Catherine is a past winner and frequent teaching award nominee for her teaching in the MBA and PhD programs. She has made presentations about her research to industry and academic groups across Canada and the US, and in Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Germany, Spain, and Portugal. Her research has been featured in the New York Times, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, and on CTV and CBC radio and TV.

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