Last fall, the Lululemon design team noticed something unusual. The Wall Street brothers flocked to the Brookfield Place store in the Financial District to buy the Moving pants, which look like chinos but are made from the same soft, stretchy, moisture-wicking material used in the brand’s sportswear. It’s true: the financial executives finally dropped their lawsuits.

[Photo: Lululemon]

Lululemon is far from the only one who notices that costumes are no longer in fashion. After two years of going through the pandemic – spending long periods of time working in sweatpants on the comfort of the sofa – the way we dress seems to have changed dramatically, perhaps even permanently. Brands, retailers and analysts have found that consumers are ditching suits, silk blouses and other formal work wear, instead opting for clothes that look professional but resemble the loungewear they do. got into the habit of wearing.

A new level of casual

In some ways, this change is part of a larger trend. For decades, American wardrobes have become more and more casual. In the 90s, progressive workplaces had “relaxed Fridays,” when employees could swap their suits for khakis. In the 2000s, it was normal for workers in tech or creative professions to wear jeans at work. Outside of the office, many of us started wearing leggings and sweatpants for more than just gym workouts, inspiring a category that has come to be known as athleisure.

This change has happened over the decades. But Juliana Prather, director of marketing at retail analytics firm Edited, says the pandemic has accelerated the trend towards insecurity. Data from the company shows that consumers have gobbled up sweatpants over the past two years, even as other clothing categories, such as suits and formal wear, have lost popularity. In 2021, despite the lockdowns largely ending, the market was flooded with 53% more sweatpants than in 2020, and 41% of them were sold.

“For years, the story has been that workers wanted to be comfortable at work,” says Prather. “But after living in loungewear for two years, most people can’t imagine going back to work clothes that are remotely uncomfortable.”

[Image: Edited]

This is something that Stitch Fix, a styling service that delivers boxes of clothing to 4.2 million customers, also found. In October 2021, its customers demanded “back to work” clothing at a rate 39% higher than the same period in 2020. But their concept of workwear had changed a lot. In a survey of 1,000 consumers, 45% wanted to give up the suit, while 31% never wanted to wear a button-down shirt or dress pants again. In fact, nearly a third of consumers said they would rather take a 10% pay cut than have to dress for work every day.

Loretta Choy, general manager of Stitch Fix for women’s clothing, says this has spawned a new category of workwear that prioritizes comfort but also looks more presentable than a hoodie and leggings. . This is such a new trend that there is no agreed term for it yet; some describe it as “business convenience” or “leisure at work”.

“Brands design workwear with elastic belts and stretch fabrics,” says Choy. “Men wear polo shirts to the office instead of oxford shirts, and there is a trend towards blazers made from soft knit fabrics that look like sweatshirts. “

[Photo: Lululemon]

How costume brands are adapting

Even tailor-focused brands are trying to accommodate this increased demand for comfort. Take Argent, a women’s workwear brand founded in 2016. Sali Christeson, the founder of Argent, launched the brand fully aware that the workplace was becoming more casual, but she emphasizes that there is always had different expectations about what men and women can wear to the office. “Women have always been subjected to a different standard in the workplace,” she says. “A lot of women feel the need to be professional in interviews and meetings, and a costume can convey that. “

[Photo: Argent]

Women have been particularly affected during the pandemic, with nearly 1.8 million of them have dropped out of the labor market since March 2020 as they had to shoulder the burden of caring for children when schools were closed. Many women are now eager to return. Christeson says that after months of declining sales, Argent has seen an increase in demand for suits in the summer and fall of 2021, as women want to look their best when they interview and begin to wear their clothes. new jobs.

[Photo: Argent]

But Christeson recognizes that women also crave comfort, which is why Argent designers have created new stretchy garments. For example, in the latest collection, Argent sells knit sweaters with collars and turtlenecks that go well under a blazer or with pants. In his imagery, Argent also associates blazers with jeans, t-shirts and even overalls.

This has been true in the wider world of workwear. MMLaFleur, another startup focused on women’s work wear, has released numerous cardigans, woven blazers and knit dresses as well as suits and shift dresses. Menswear companies like Brooks Brothers, Hugo Boss, and Mizzen + Main have been promoting casual collections that include plenty of hoodies and polo shirts. “It’s all about hybrid skin,” says Prather of Edited. “As people have increasingly hybrid lifestyles, going back and forth between work and home, they are combining work clothes and home clothes. “

From Athleisure to Workloisir

Lululemon was at the forefront of the athleisure trend. When it launched two decades ago, its premium yoga leggings became a cult following, and many customers began wearing the brand’s activewear outside of the studio. Over the past decade, it has become more and more acceptable in certain industries, especially the technological and creative professions, to put on athletic wear in the office. Lululemon clients opted to wear yoga pants with a button-down shirt to work out, while men tended to wear fitted joggers instead of khakis.

[Photo: Lululemon]

Sun Choe, Product Manager for Lululemon, explains that Lululemon has started actively designing parts for this segment of the market. She’s created button down shirts made from the kind of materials one would expect from a workout outfit, rain jackets designed to look like trench coats and, of course, the On the Move pants, which hit the market seven years ago. Choe says the clothes were designed to look more professional than the brand’s sportswear, while still allowing freedom of movement; all have done particularly well over the past two years.

“We designed these pieces for people who had active daily commutes, like those who cycled to work and didn’t want to have to change when they got to the office,” she says. “The pants were popular with the tech guys, but in the past they were too casual for the finance people who still wore suits in the office. But those pieces flew off the shelves during the pandemic. “

Leland Drummond, co-founder of a new lingerie brand called LDMA (“Life Deserves More Action”), points out that the pandemic has not only increased consumers’ desire for comfort, it has also blurred the lines between different activities of our life. “Working from home means doing a workout before your Zoom call and then taking your kids to the playground,” she says. “Consumers are looking for clothes that are designed for activity but still make you look presentable. “

[Photo: LDMA]

Drummond launched LDMA for women who wanted comfortable underwear for exercising, but also breathable and moisture-wicking so they could be worn after a workout. (Her team has also been keen to ensure that panty lines don’t show through leggings and tights, as this is a definite violation of the professionalism of the office.) Since its launch in mid -November, Drummond says the brand sold months of inventory in a matter of weeks and had to order products way ahead of schedule.

Many retailers and clothing companies don’t expect costumes to return, even as the pandemic recedes and people return to the office. Stitch Fix’s Choy says brands are designing far fewer costumes for the coming year, instead focusing on ‘work leisure’ clothing made from materials we are used to seeing in loungewear. and sportswear.

Lululemon, for its part, puts its R&D into the creation of clothing that meets these requirements. “We have a lot of expertise in creating clothes to sweat,” Choe says. “Now we’re looking to incorporate these technologies into clothes that are perfect for a board meeting or a Zoom call. “

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