PITTSBURGH – Imagine a mortgage advisor – what is he or she wearing? Probably a suit and polished shoes. Now imagine that the same employee was stuck for a year and a half in a global pandemic, changing schedules, closing offices and multiplying the workload.
According to Jonathan Freed, a managing partner at Holland Mortgage Advisors, suit pants are out, shorts and flip flops are in.
Freed said his employees’ workload tripled during the pandemic and some employees worked almost seven days a week. Much of this work was remote.
“Then why should I go and rip their asses off because they’re coming back to the office or what they’re wearing?” he said.
Before the pandemic, Holland Mortgage Advisors employees wore business casual – golf polos, khakis, dress shoes. When the employees trickled back into the office, this dress code was removed and an “anything goes” approach has taken its place.
As offices continue to open their doors, many managers are offering more flexible dressing policies geared towards a workforce that has become accustomed to wearing sweatpants, sandals, and baggy T-shirts. “I think this is a societal shift in the way we see work and clothing and all of that,” Freed said. “I don’t think that’s going back.”
RareMed Solutions, a healthcare software company, has a select group of employees in the office, most of whom will still be working remotely for the foreseeable future. That means business, human resources, and IT staff are still added, but unobtrusively.
“I think we tend to call it smart casual where it’s a lot more flexible,” said Dr. Douglas Gebhard, President and General Manager of RareMed Solutions. “Nobody wears suit pants, jackets or shirts in the office, not even from Monday to Thursday.”
Gebhard, a pharmaceutical doctor, says pre-pandemic casual Fridays gave employees more freedom from the more formal regulations than the current ones. It’s a long tradition.
“What used to be our look on Friday is now pretty much what it is every day except when we have a customer on site,” he said.
That was probably the main reason to dress up a bit in the first place. “When the people came on-site, we sold the location, the team, the entire area with the people in the office,” added Gebhard.
Now he says that many meetings with clients are virtual, which reduces the pressure to button up.
Even without a local customer, Freed believes dress codes are just another part of office politics. “I think it’s psychological. Everyone is back in the office, everyone is trying to move forward in their careers and show the bosses what they can do, ”he said.
“I think that’s really the origin of this dress. It’s only part of your career, it’s part of your whole being, and now that this is kind of out the window, there’s no need to continue. “
Other companies have been flexible, but with some caveats.
At Seegrid Corp., an Enlow, Pennsylvania-based supplier of autonomous mobile robots for warehouses, employees who could work from home were happy to continue wearing their Seegrid-branded T-shirts and polos at Zoom meetings.
“During the summer some employees were sure to wear shorts and flip-flops, but the Seegrid T-shirts and polo shirts continued,” said Bud Leeper, People Operations Leader.
The dress code won’t change in the future, but Leeper has noticed that more employees are interested in more options for Seegrid branded apparel.
Clothing stores are also noticing the changed preferences of employees. Last year Maria McManus’ womens boutique, Pursuits, drowned in overstock. “I was inundated with bottoms because nobody bought bottoms. They still called Zoom, ”she said.
Now she’s hoping a 50% discount combined with a return to the office will move the inventory.
For customers who want new pants but still want comfort at home, she makes sure to keep a line that stretches at the waist. “They get dressed and they are very comfortable,” said McManus.
At this point last year, their sales were down 54%. McManus said May 2021 would be their first normal month of sales since the pandemic began, fueled by vaccinated Pittsburghers emerging from the lockdown and a loyal clientele.
At Larrimor’s, a high-end clothing company in downtown, customers are buying again – but they are also changing.
“Right now there are people who come back to their office, be it a few days a week or every day, and they really want to freshen up their wardrobe,” says co-owner Lisa Slesinger. “For some of them this means changing goods that they already have because they lost COVID weight or gained COVID weight.”
During the pandemic, Larrimor sold a lot of stretchy material – “French terry or fleece, cashmere, whatever people wanted,” she added.
After the pandemic, Slesinger says her customers are looking for adaptable clothing. For men, this means jackets that are suitable for the office, but can be worn with jeans as a transition to a long-awaited night on the town.
The return of formal events is causing customers to rethink their all-sweats wardrobe. Waisted dresses for women, matching suits for groomsmen. “People knew this year that they could finally celebrate their big wedding,” said Slesinger.
Since returning to the office with other senior executives, Freed has been using the extra space to set up a DIY gym.
“I just wear sneakers and go back and work out. I’ve never done that before, ”he said. “I’ve changed a lot myself – I don’t want to go back either. I think we all have the same mindset – if this is the new norm we should stick to it instead of trying to force people back to how it was before. “
Clothing stores are noticing that employee preferences for workwear are changing due to the pandemic.
Workers look different when they go back to the office