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

Eli, left, Brent, Lindsay and Ava Wilson. (Photo courtesy of Lindsay Wilson)
West Shore families share experience in raising a child with autism

Two families reveal some parallels, but circumstances are different for everyone

Hamels Fabrics & Quilting is set to open on April 6 in Sooke. The shop is located at 2044 Otter Point Road. (Mark Martins/Pixabay)
Fabric and quilting store opens doors in Sooke

Shop is filled with all kinds of ‘bright, bold and cheery’ designs

Kit Thornton, chief aquarist at the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea, plays with Wanda, the female Giant Pacific octopus currently residing at the centre. The centre will release Wanda back into the wild next month. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
An octopus named Wanda will soon say goodbye to Sidney

Wanda’s personality is ‘complete opposite’ of previous octopus named after Dr. Bonnie Henry

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, was filming near Prospect Lake in Saanich last month. (Photo courtesy Fred Haynes)
Province announces $150,000 investment into movie studio study at Camosun College

South Island NDP candidates promised funding to develop business plan during 2020 election

Saanich Fire Department on the scene after a car crashed into the Walmart in Uptown. (Photo courtesy Dan Wood)
UPDATED: Saanich firefighters free trapped workers at Uptown Walmart

Incident reported as explosion after driver rammed through wall

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

Nanaimo RCMP are asking for the public’s help in identifying the man suspected of being involved in a stabbing. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo RCMP trying to identify stabbing suspect who wielded rusty knife

Stabbing followed argument between two men at Port Place Shopping Centre April 1

The inside of the Campbell River Community Centre gymnasium has been marked off in order to facilitate the public flowing through the clinic as they receive their COVID-19 vaccination. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell river Mirror
Leftover vaccines go into arms, not down the drain: Island Health

Immunization plan comes with built-in options for any unused vaccines at the end of the day

A man wears a face mask past the emergency department of the Vancouver General Hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Calls for stricter action in B.C. as COVID-19 variants projected to climb

Jens von Bergmann says the province has taken a ‘wait and see’ approach when early action is needed

Vancouver’s park board general manager issued a new order Friday restricting tents and other temporary structures from being set up in Strathcona Park after April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver park board issues order to restrict tents in Strathcona Park

The order issued Friday restricted tents and other temporary structures from being set up after April 30

Most Read