Many erstwhile desk-dwellers who are trading in their slacks for sweatpants as the work-from-home era has loosened up corporate dress codes. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Soft Focus, Vai Yu Law)

Many erstwhile desk-dwellers who are trading in their slacks for sweatpants as the work-from-home era has loosened up corporate dress codes. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Soft Focus, Vai Yu Law)

Sweats are in, slacks are out: Could ‘work-leisure’ become business as usual?

Big-name apparel brands seem to have noticed that comfort never goes out of style

Every morning when Ariella Baron searched her closet for something to wear to work, she would mentally scroll through her schedule to calibrate her outfit to the tasks the day had in store for her.

But the manager at a Toronto accounting firm says getting dressed has become a whole lot simpler since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered offices to turn homes into makeshift workspaces.

After weeks of toiling away in T-shirts and leggings, 26-year-old Baron dreads the day she has to dust off her dress shirts and blouses for her commute — but lately, it’s hard to imagine how she and her colleagues will get back to business as usual.

“I feel like people were starting to see it was unnecessary to always have to dress business casual. It’s more about being comfortable,” she said.

“This may be the thing that pushes it over the edge.”

Baron is one of many erstwhile desk-dwellers who are trading in their slacks for sweatpants as the work-from-home era has loosened up corporate dress codes.

As employers in some regions gradually reopen offices, designers and trend-watchers say the clamour for professional clothing people can feel at home in could lead to a surge in “work-leisure” wear.

“People are just as — if not more — productive when they’re working at home and they’re comfortable,” said Vancouver designer Jess Sternberg.

“There’s no reason not to adapt some of those lifestyle changes to the new world that we’re going to be entering in the office.”

The owner of Free Label said e-commerce sales have doubled as the sustainable clothing brand’s upscale basics have proven a perfect fit for professionals revamping their work wardrobes with pieces they can wear while lolling about in their living rooms or meeting with clients over video-chat.

Sammi Smith, founder and designer of Toronto-based Soft Focus, said online demand for her sleepwear-inspired silhouettes has soared during lockdown. The success is perhaps unsurprising given that the line began with Smith’s own transition from a corporate fashion job to starting her own venture from home.

Searching for styles suited to running a business from her couch, Smith set out to design clothing for women who want to ”power dress in pyjamas.” Depending on how you style an outfit, Smith said a collared sleep shirt can become a breezy blouse, or a terry cloth sweatsuit can double as a cozy twist on the classic pantsuit.

“I sometimes joke that fancy pajamas are the uniform of the gig economy,” said Smith. “Perhaps they’ll also become the uniform of the new work-from-home protocol.”

Big-name apparel brands also seem to have noticed that comfort never goes out of style.

Uniqlo Canada has seen a more than 200-per-cent surge in comfortable clothing sales, according marketing manager Sehee Kim. Top-sellers include work-home crossover fashions such as draped drawstring pants.

Lululemon Athletica has also expanded its selection of sweat-wicking work apparel as the Vancouver-based company’s stock price reached all-time highs on the NASDAQ this month.

Retail analyst Bruce Winder said the rise of “work-leisure” is a rare bright spot in an otherwise bleak industry landscape.

Statistics Canada reported that clothing and accessory sales were slashed by more than half in March — the largest one-month drop on record — and Winder said the forecast for April looks even grimmer.

Even as stores in some areas slowly start to welcome back customers, Winder said COVID-19 closures may be the death knell for “yesterday’s brands,” particularly those associated with buttoned-up office fashions.

For example, Reitmans is filing for creditor protection after an unsuccessful attempt to appeal to young career women saw its Smart Set banner shut down in 2014.

Carolyn Levy, president of technology for human resources consultancy Randstad Canada, said suit-and-tie attire fell out of fashion in most workplaces long ago. But as people settle into working in sweats, she predicts to see the push to relieve workers from the restrictions of gut-pinching waistbands will accelerate.

Even in the weeks since the pandemic upended professional life, Levy said early efforts to maintain decorum during Zoom conferences have given way to hoodies and baseball caps, and even people who seem put together on camera could be dressing down outside the frame.

While she doesn’t anticipate seeing bathrobes in the boardroom anytime soon, Levy suspects that the days of busting out of an itchy, ill-fitting suit when you walk through the door may very well be behind us.

“It will be about what are other fabrics you can wear that are comfortable and that still look presentable,” said Levy. “They have a casual flair to them, they let your personality show through, but you feel good.”

Ben Barry, chair of the Ryerson School of Fashion, said traditional workwear is tailored to fit a white, western and masculine ideal of who looks “professional” that excludes many types of bodies.

Now that COVID-19 has challenged deap-seated corporate conventions, Barry urged companies to take the opportunity to remove sartorial barriers so people of all sizes, abilities and genders can let their talent shine through their work and their wardrobe.

“Finding that hybrid between workwear and leisurewear is going to open up access to so many more people to feel at home in their bodies,” said Barry.

“I think that ultimately leads to feeling more connected to where we work, a heightened sense of creativity and more people being able to bring their whole selves to work.”

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

CoronavirusFashion

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A video captured by Twitter user Teddy Jenner of a fire in Beacon Hill Park the night of Jan. 21, 2021. (Twitter/@OfftheCrosseBar)
Fire rips through tents, wooden structures in Beacon Hill Park

Emergency crews say there was no injuries in the blaze

(Black Press Media file photo)
Bylaw officers called to Saanich park for COVID-19 protocol violations on pickleball court

Raquet sport players reminded to avoid doubles play amid pandemic

Victoria police say a missing teen has been located safe. (Black Press Media file photo)
Missing teen located safe: Victoria police

Missing person alert ended for high-risk missing 14-year-old

There are many options for enjoying a meal out locally during Dine Around and Stay in Town, on now through Feb. 7. (10 Acres Commons)
Dine Around Stay in Town Victoria carries added importance during pandemic

Special menu items for eat in or takeout/delivery, staycation deals available through Feb. 7

Central Saanich installed a temporary portable along Lochside Trail near Michell’s Farm Market and remains in discussion with the Capital Regional District about finding what Mayor Ryan Windsor called a ‘permanent solution’ to ensuring washroom access at the popular location. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Central Saanich in talks with CRD about ‘permanent’ washroom facility near Lochside Trail

The municipality installed a temporary portable washroom near Michell’s Farm Market last week

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Jan. 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Aquaculture employee from Vancouver Island, Michelle, poses with a comment that she received on social media. Facebook group Women in Canadian Salmon Farming started an online campaign #enoughisenough to highlight the harassment they were facing online after debates about Discovery Islands fish farms intensified on social media. (Submitted photo)
Female aquaculture employees report online bullying, say divisive debate has turned sexist

Vancouver Island’s female aquaculture employees start #enoughisenough to address misogynistic comments aimed at them

Most Read