In the Before Times, said Rebecca Rittenberg, a 28-year-old who works in advertising sales for Google in New York, one of her favorite parts about going to the office was “showing up in a funky, cool professional outfit.”
A smart pair of pants, colorful or patterned blouses, blazers, skirts, dresses, heeled boots and designer sneakers were all part of her wardrobe, which she used to express her personality and keep up with her stylish ad world colleagues.
Now, after eight months of working from home, and with Google saying workers won’t have to return in person until next summer at the earliest, a big swath of that apparel has been donated and replaced. Ms. Rittenberg’s new definition of “work clothes” includes cashmere cardigans and joggers, headbands, and other cozy garments that fall somewhere in the “healthy in-between” of pajamas and blazers.
“I looked at my stuff I used to wear to the office all the time and thought, ‘When am I ever going to touch this again?’” she said. “Our mind-sets have shifted a bit with this pandemic and the fact that we’ve all been working from home for so long. Once we are back in the office, which I do think will happen, it just seems like a pretty extreme jump to go back to wearing a blazer and pencil skirt and heels again.”
As many professional women have found themselves in an extended period of remote work, their notions of work wear have transformed, shaking up businesses that have sought to outfit them for the office. American office attire was already facing the effects of “casualization” — even Goldman Sachs loosened its dress code last year — but as the pandemic drags on, the shift is accelerating and may stick around for good.
Bloomingdale’s has watched customers increasingly seek out cashmere, flat shoes, pants with elastic waistbands and other comfy apparel, while brands like Theory have rushed to add more casual clothing to their lines, said Denise Magid, an executive vice president at Bloomingdale’s who oversees ready-to-wear apparel.
“Regardless of when people go back to the office, I think people have grown comfortable with what they’re wearing,” Ms. Magid said. “I just can’t see people giving away the feeling of comfort.”
The retail landscape is changing with the new needs of the remote worker. Bankruptcies this year included Brooks Brothers and the owner of Ann Taylor and Loft. Rent the Runway closed all of its stores and removed its unlimited subscription option. In Gap Inc.’s latest quarter, net sales soared 15 percent at Old Navy and 35 percent at Athleta while plummeting 34 percent at Banana Republic.
Gap named a new head of Banana Republic last week and said on an earnings call that the brand had been “working hard to update its product assortment” for an era of remote work, favoring more casual clothes over tailored garments and suiting.
Professional women have long been a lucrative market. Retailers see them as customers who tend to have money