The Challenge of a Post-COVID Business Casual Wardrobe


Until recently, when the Delta strain of COVID-19, threw a twist into the quarantine story and catapulted the virus and its variants back to new levels, vaccinated people did start to go back into gathering spaces such as work and social events. So, as an image consultant, I’m often asked, “What should I wear when the pandemic comes to an end?” This is a problem! After wearing your most comfy casual and stretchy clothes for the past year and a half, many professionals are re-thinking what they want to wear. They’re wondering how to revamp their existing wardrobes to continue wearing the ever-so-forgiving lounge-type clothing. An average of 41 percent of Americans gained weight during the pandemic. They don’t fit into the clothes that have been hanging in their closets collecting dust. Perhaps you don’t need to dress as formally as you did pre-quarantine any longer. Maybe you want to wear clothing that feels fresh and new. Join the crowd. During the pandemic, I worked with a half dozen or so in-person clients and noticed that it was impossible to escape the excessive amount of casual clothing available in the stores. I saw every version of sweats, including formal studded sweatshirts and matching sweatpants. I find it interesting that most of my clients are saying that they want soft, comfy fabrics that stretch, yet look professional. On a side note, many stores closed or went out of business during the pandemic, in particular men’s clothing stores, more so than women’s. Being a costume historian is my passion, and I find myself looking at where we’ve come from and where we’re going after yet another major historical event. After the last pandemic of 1918, society experienced the most significant change in women’s clothing ever in history. During the 1920s, women cut their hair and styled it into bobs, wore the shortest skirts and dresses ever in history, got rid of corsets, emphasized a boyish look by binding their breasts, and wore shapeless dresses. As we emerge from the COVID-19 era of the early 2020s, what changes will we see? Are we all going to look like we belong on Star Trek? Will we start wearing uniforms of two colors made of stretchy fabric? The question you’re asking yourself is: “What should I wear to look fabulous and feel as confident as I did before the pandemic?” What you know is that everyone wants to feel more comfortable after wearing sweats and yoga pants for the past 18 months. So, here is my vision of post-pandemic business casual: a pair of nice comfortable jeans or casual pants with a professional looking top and a great pair of shoes. That’s professional on the top and bottom, casual in the middle. How do you achieve that look? Divide your body into three parts, top, middle, and bottom. Each part has its own look. Top – The advice on tops for both men and women includes everything you wear above your waist: jacket, shirt, dress, scarf, sweater, hoodie, etc. Whether you’re on video conferencing calls all day long or in-person meetings, you still want to look more professional with what you wear on the top. Most of the time, this is all people actually see of you. Your wardrobe should include nice shirts that are well pressed, casual or more tailored jackets, sweaters (pullover and cardigans), and for women, dresses. Clean, well pressed clothing on the top creates a polished more attractive impression. A tip: For those still working by Zoom or other video conferencing, it doesn’t matter if your clothes are new or old. The camera picks up the color, not the texture. Middle – Darker jeans, (non-faded or super distressed jeans), pants, or for women, casual skirts. The point is that what you wear in the middle is casual, something you would not typically pair with a more formal top. My favorite is a dark blue pair of denim jeans. You can dress them up so that they look like a pair of dark pants, yet, the styling, fit, and feel is just a pair of jeans. The denim in jeans now has more stretch in the fabric than ever before. New, high-tech fibers are woven into cotton to give them a more comfortable fit. I’ve noticed that men are now getting used to the comfort of tighter, stretchy fitting jeans and they are loving it! Bottom – Shoes. It’s all about the shoes. Trust me! Everybody notices your shoes; women as well as men. How many times have you noticed either a man or woman wearing a fab pair of shoes? It completely changes the outfit to elevate the overall look. To dress up those casual jeans, wear a fabulous pair of shoes to bump up the entire outfit. Of course, your shoes might very well have a white rubber sole. Personally, I’m getting a bit tired of all those white soled shoes. Yes, it’s the trend, but they become dirty quickly, and the dirt makes your new shoes seem old. It’s a plot to get you to buy more shoes more frequently; you don’t need to buy into it! Business casual is what you want it to be, but learn the limits of what’s acceptable within your sphere of professionalism and influence. Keep in mind that the better you look, the more respect you’ll receive. First impressions do still matter.