If I Can't Wear Sweats to Work, I'm Quitting: How the Office Wardrobe Might Change Post-Pandemic

post pandemic fashion cat

Zoom shirt on top, yoga pants on the bottom. For those of us who have been lucky enough to work remotely throughout the pandemic, it’s safe to say we’ve gotten pretty accustomed to prioritizing function over fashion. Cue the vaccine rollout and a looming return to the office, which begs the sartorial question: Is there a place, post-COVID, for the structured dresses and heels that have been collecting dust in our closet since last March? We’re still unsure, which is why we consulted the experts—a stylist, editor and retailer all included—about what to expect from the office dress code as we re-emerge.

1. Restrictive Workwear Is Out, Flowy Attire Is In

About those structured dresses and heels… You might as well shuffle those items to the back, according to Cindy Conroy, a fashion expert and stylist. As we transition out of pajamas and loungewear, there’s going to be a rebellion against anything that feels too formal or uncomfy. “Instead, you’re going to see relaxed jumpsuits with cozy cardigans, maxi skirts, oversized blazers, fluid dresses, wide-leg trousers, draped blouses and more,” she says. “Women have proven they can make things happen, all while wearing a bathrobe and working from their sofa or kitchen table. When the influx of people return to the office, the attitude will be centered around fashionable comfort without the guilt trip.”

2. The Emphasis Will Also Be On Separates You Can Mix and Match

According to Libby Page, senior market editor at Net-a-Porter, she’s scouted a more blended style when it comes to post-pandemic workwear. “Our customers are mixing and matching formal pieces with casualwear, such as suits worn with sneakers and loungewear with a tailored blazer over the top,” she says. Bottom line: Dressing for comfort and practicality seem to be the driving force behind style decisions for the office on the other side. “We anticipate comfy knits and blouses, elevated leggings and less-structured blazers in bright colors to be top of mind for our customers as they return to work.”

3. The Quest to Return to ‘Normalcy’ Reigns

Per Conroy, no, you don’t have to be done up all day to prove what a boss you are. That said, she’s noticed an influx in, well, effort when it comes to style. “After cocooning in our homes for so long, many women want to experience fashion as an adventure,” she says. “All things glamorous and sexy—think crop tops and sultry dresses—are flying off the racks.” How you wear those to the office depends largely on your industry, of course, but the chance to get all dressed up and feel normal again is exciting right now. It’s the whole revenge shopping trend—we’ve missed our “going out” clothes, she explains.

4. But Hybrid Work Models Will Mean an Investment in Fewer, Nicer Things

An edited closet is the best closet. As we make our way back to the office, you can expect a renewed energy when it comes to purging and keeping only what you’ll actually wear. Rounding out your wardrobe with a handful of investment pieces that you can stretch the life of will become a priority, so that when you do have to go into the office, you know exactly what to throw on and feel good about it. Ultimately, it’s all about a no-fuss approach, says Dominique Hobdy, senior fashion editor at PureWow. “I think women will invest in durable, functional pieces—a high-quality tote, shoes that get them used to commuting again. The focus will be on what’s important.” In other words, quality over quantity.

5. ‘Casualization’ Is the Post-Pandemic Work Trend That Will Dominate

There’s a new freedom taking hold when it comes to office fashion after COVID-19, according to Conroy. And while the dress code might not change forever, expectations will. “Instead of condoning heels and suits, your office culture may be relaxing,” she says. “No more looks of judgment for wearing sneakers and T-shirts to work. Now you can wear a cute pair of runners and a fun top, minus the frowns.” Page agrees: “This attitude of casual dressing will be ingrained in our approach for a while and, of course, there will be an adjustment period for everyone.” But, she adds, comfort and practicality are here to stay.

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Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...