Has formal office wear changed forever?

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December, 2020 Capsule Wardrobe Colour Analysis Personal Style Sustainability  


Last week I was listening to the radio one lunchtime and happened to hear a piece about an increase in elasticated waistbands in formal/office wear.  I was intrigued!

2020 has undoubtedly been the year of loungewear – but is a more relaxed approach to what we wear to the office here to stay?

50% increase in elasticated waistbands

Interestingly the programme reported an increase in designers and retailers promoting elasticated waistbands, or ‘waistbands with stretch’, in their smarter style trousers and skirts – so called ‘relaxed tailoring’. 

They quoted a statistic from M&S saying that 50% more of their trousers have elastic/stretch in their waistbands this autumn compared with the same time last year.

Designers such as Victoria Beckham are also combining formality with comfort in items like these Belted Jersey Trousers – specifically marketed as being smart and comfortable.

A decline in formal tailoring

Speaking on the programme, Francesca Muston, Vice President at fashion trend forecaster WGSN, believes that this is part of an evolution in formal tailoring which has already been in decline for many years.  She highlighted that consumer research shows that the work suit has been at the bottom of the pile (excuse the pun) in women’s retail for a while.

So is it that, as with many things, lockdown expedited a trend that was already unfolding?

Has lockdown relaxed our approach to our professional image?

For many people, prior to lockdown, the elements that make up our lives were more compartmentalised.  Our working hours were spent with colleagues, and our home hours with family and friends.  But lockdown caused our worlds to collide. 

The kitchen table became the office, the classroom, as well as the place we ate.  Children and dogs made unscheduled guest appearances during board meetings.  And, inevitably, the version of ourselves that we presented changed. 

We no longer presented one version to the outside world, and another at home, there was just one version.  We became more relaxed.  And the same happened to our clothes – there was just one, more relaxed, wardrobe. 

Relaxed tailoring

I’m the sort of person that still needs to get dressed for work – regardless of where that work is.  That doesn’t mean that I’m sitting at my kitchen table in a full suit (I don’t actually own a suit) – but putting on clothes that feel good puts me in a productive and positive frame of mind.  However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be comfortable.  

This move towards relaxed tailoring seems to me to provide a very happy middle ground – clothes that have a look of formality but which are designed with comfort in mind.  Clothes which make me feel put together and ready for work – but in a way that makes it more comfortable.  They provide more fluidity between workwear and ‘off-duty’ – reflecting the evolving way we live our lives. 

This fluidity is certainly something that Francesca Muston is predicting.  Writing in a Guardian article in the summer she said, “I don’t think we’ll live forevermore in some kind of dystopian loungewear future.  But, I think we’re going to see a breaking down of what are at the moment fairly clearly defined categories of fitness and activewear, casual-wear, formal and tailoring and party-wear.  We need to start breaking down those boundaries because that’s just not how people are living their lives.”

Start 2021 in style

Lots of people are now facing the prospect of a return to the office in the new year – even if it’s on a part time basis.  Will you be ‘suited and booted’ – or will you take a more relaxed approach?

Watch out for my next article highlighting my top tips for starting 2021 in style.

Blog written by Kirsty Mack, consultant for Stourbridge