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Back in 1999, luxury fashion designer Tom Ford made a prediction about how technology could affect the way people dress in the not-so-near future.
“Life changes. And we’re working more and more at home, more and more from our computer screens, which in the future – I mean, there are several possibilities,” he said in an interview with Charlie Rose. “A lot of people think that fashion could die just because we’re just at home. You can work in your underwear and a t-shirt. Who cares? Who will see you?”
Has become his prediction your Reality during the COVID-19 pandemic? If yes, you are not alone.
With many people working from home during the pandemic lockdown, companies’ formal dress codes dissolved and office workers were no longer required to dress up. Pants have been replaced by sweats. People dropped heels. And t-shirts started to dominate.
Now that many of these workers are returning to the office, we seem to be entering a new era of workwear. This begs the question: What do I wear to work?
As part of NPR’s Work Life series, NPR’s morning edition spoke to people navigating this question. They include 27-year-old Jeremy Gonzalez, who began working on Capitol Hill last November.
“Once I started coming in, even on off days, I would wear a suit and tie or even my three-piece suit,” he said. But after waves of pandemic variants and a staggering hybrid schedule, he’s now more inclined to wear jeans and a button-down or polo shirt.
Some others in politics are also disguising themselves noticeably.
When the leaders of the Group of Seven Nations took their group photo in Germany last month, something strange happened: they all removed their ties. It was believed to be the first time in 40 years that a G-7 portrait had been taken without a tie, and could be taken as another signal that formal dress codes are becoming more relaxed.
Looser dress codes have found their way into another notoriously formal work culture — Wall Street — where traditionally for men, suits have been the only option.
Well, “the key word is confusion,” says Ken Giddon, whose family runs Rothman’s, a Manhattan men’s store. “People really don’t know what to do.”
As offices have reopened, he’s noticed that people are less sure about what to wear.
“Do you wear pants to work? do you wear khakis Can you wear jeans?” he said. “Nobody’s really drawn the line, and nobody really knows what the right answer is.”
His advice is to start with smart trousers and a blazer, assess the vibe of the office and go from there.
Washington Post Senior critic Robin Givhan agrees – rather on the more elegant side.
“What’s struck me is that there’s really a return to some kind of fashion with a capital F,” she said. “I think people who loved it before continue to love it. And it has something to do with setting boundaries again. You have the clothes that you wear in the world, and then you have the clothes that are your playtime clothes, your off-duty clothes.”
Still, Givhan sees one area where comfort will continue to be a priority.
“I don’t see a return to the elegant heels or the narrow shoes,” said Givhan. “I see a lot more apartments both in offices and on runways.”
Of course, not everyone likes to dress up in formal attire. And, as Givhan puts it, not everyone wants the same breakdown between their personal and professional selves.
“I think for some people it’s really invigorating to be able to take their whole personality with them wherever they go,” she said. “And I think there are other people who were frustrated that their workday never really seemed to end, that it just smeared into a giant mess where they were constantly online.”
Just like Tom Ford predicted.
Jeevika Verma produced the radio version of this story and Rachel Treisman edited and produced the web version.