As many Canadians have shifted to working from home during the novel coronavirus pandemic, so have their wardrobes.
For some, working from the comfort of their couch means fashion freedom: sweat pants, workout leggings and un-ironed shirts. For others, putting effort into getting dressed offers much-needed structure in a time of uncertainty — even if they’re not sporting blazers and suits.
And then there’s those who take the best of both worlds.
“There’s this phenomenon that the Wall Street Journal recently described called the business mullet: normal up top and party below,” said Anne Bissonnette, an associate professor of material culture and curatorship at the University of Alberta.
“Because all people see is the upper section of the torso and the head [on screens], they think, ‘Why bother with the bottom?'”
Something that looks appropriate from here up for video calls. Sweats and wrinkles on the bottom. pic.twitter.com/2503epk6o2
— Colleen Doherty (@DohertyColleen) April 8, 2020
Remy Delima, a Toronto-based PR professional, said she’d been sporting lounge wear while working remotely. Up until this week, Delima said she was wearing fitness gear “all day everyday.”
“I like to workout at some point everyday,” she said, “[But] this week I decided to actually get dressed, and then change into my workout clothes for my at-home workouts.”
In a recent article, New York Times fashion writer Vanessa Friedman said she always dresses as if she was going into an office when working from home.
“Personally, I need all sorts of maybe-silly signals to my brain that it is now in work mode instead of home mode,” Friedman wrote.
“I find if I just move from bed to computer (or computer on bed), I don’t think as crisply. It’s better if I brush my hair, tuck in my shirt and put on shoes, rather than slippers.”
How we dress does affect us, Bissonnette said. Not only can putting on “work clothes” help signal that it is no longer rest time, what we wear can affect our identity.
“If we are constantly dressing in sweatpants, how we perceive ourselves and how we think may actually be affected,” she said.
“It’s not just about other people looking at us through the screen; it’s our own self-definition.”
Delima said clothing definitely has an effect on her mood, and getting “dressed up” puts her in a different headspace. Since she’s been putting a bit more effort into her outfits this week — even adding jewellery — she’s noticed the difference.
“One thing is for sure; I NEED a bra on to be in ‘work mode,'” she said. “Without one I just can’t get into a productive state.”
This week I've changed it up and put on jeans – they're my comfy/stretchy jeans – but not PJs! I feel it's helped my focus! Pants and a bra definitely help me feel more productive and focused.
— email@example.com (@remydel) April 8, 2020
I try for jeans and “real” clothes every other day to remember my full potential 💁🏻♀️
— Anna Weigt-Bienzle (@awhitebean) April 8, 2020
What factors affect our work from home outfits
Work-appropriate dress is environment dependent, Bissonnette said. What is considered appropriate for a law office, for example, differs from what a gallery worker may wear.
For Delima, her workplace is relatively casual, so it wouldn’t feel right to suddenly wear business wear at home. This means her work-from-home uniform has morphed into a “dressed down version” of her everyday office style.
While it is generally accepted that people’s outfits have become more casual now that their work environment is home, you should still maintain a level of professionalism when you are on a video conference with your colleagues, Bissonnette said.
You don’t need to dress as you would for a “regular” work day, per se, but you should still put in some effort.
“There is a limit to how casual people can get,” Bissonnette said.
“Clients, colleagues and people that hire you look at personal presentation, and the way you dress affects their perception of your competence and your capabilities. So we’re sort of in a really strange limbo right now.”
This limbo is reflected in larger pop culture, too, Bissonnette said.
Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour recently shared a photo on Instagram of her working remotely wearing her signature sunglasses with a cosy-looking sweater, a more laid-back look than her usual fancy getup.
Late-night talk show hosts, Bissonnette said, are another example of public-facing people adopting more casual — yet appropriate — looks.
“There is a code that is developing,” she said.
“If black is appropriate for funerals, for example, we now have a casual pandemic style that is happening.”
Plus for parents who suddenly are balancing work and childcare at home, putting on a business blouse every day may not be practical.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, people may be sick or caring for sick ones in the home. These circumstances, naturally, call for comfortable clothing, Bissonnette said — period.
We had a dress up call on Monday. It was fascinating! pic.twitter.com/cEHqu59PWc
— Amy Greenshields (@a2davids) April 8, 2020
It’s also important to remember that not everyone has the ability to work from home, Bissonnette said, and plenty of Canadians may find themselves out of work at the moment, too.
“We have levels of unemployment that are really rising, and may not go back to where they were before,” she said.
“We have to keep that in mind in this situation.”
Will we forget how to dress?
Once people go back to their old work spaces or find new employment, Bissonnette said new trends may emerge.
More looser fitting clothing may be popular, or adjustable garments like wrap dresses may make a return.
“Lots of people have talked about how pandemic may be a game-changer in all sorts of industries,” she said.
“I would love to see people stop buying fast fashion.”
While Delima is making the best of the situation, there are some items she’s itching to wear outside once coronavirus measures lift.
“Leather jackets and silk maxi dresses,” she said.
“It isn’t the same wearing those two things around the house.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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- Global News