What Will Power Dressing Look Like Post-Pandemic?

LONDON — After a year of dressing from the waist up and swapping tailoring for hoodies, joggers and tracksuits, are professionals ready to ditch the loungewear, put on a suit and return to the office?

There’s definitely a desire to return to socializing with colleagues (since restrictions began lifting in London, restaurants with outdoor dining have been overflowing with people having personal and professional catch-ups) and an urge to dress up — just not in stiff clothing or high-heels.

“Everyone will be really excited to have a reason to get dressed up again. I do however think ‘dressed-up’ will take on a different meaning,” said Holly Tenser, ready-to-wear buying manager at Browns.

Across their virtual fall 2021 runways, designers tried to envision what the new office dress code would look like, post-pandemic. While no one was quite ready to give up on tailoring, designers were keen to give power dressing a new definition.

It involved elasticated waistbands, oversize silhouettes, softer fabrics and more playful colors.

“We have a voice we’ve never had before, people feel more heard. It’s a moment to say who you are with what you wear and be less apologetic. This is very present in the workplace where women were usually unable to stand out too much,” said Stella McCartney following her fall 2021 presentation, where she indulged in more eccentricity, shine and color than ever.

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McCartney swapped her neutral palette and minimalist staples in favor of suits featuring trousers with wide, jazzy flares or blazers layered under bomber jackets and paired with sporty joggers.

“We’re starting something fresh, so I wanted to be bold and embrace youthfulness and the feeling of being unafraid,” she added.

Roksanda Ilincic has also been contemplating what women will want to wear when returning to the office, and hoping to offer practical solutions in the form of softer suits made using cashmere-blend fabrics. She’s also been adding fun pops of color — a burnt orange and fuchsia color-blocked suit was one of the season’s highlights.

“As a woman designer, I’m conscious of the clothes being worn and asking whether each piece will be relevant for next fall,” said Ilincic, pointing to chic silk blouses that she believes can replace blazers and offer a cross between Zoom and office dressing.

Buyers have been responding to this new approach to power dressing, too, and standing behind the concept of comfortable and more upbeat office wear. Net-a-porter is pushing  “The New Blazer” trend for the upcoming season: “It’s about anything that isn’t traditional — long-line shapes, collarless details, belting or vintage inspired silhouettes,” said Libby Page, senior market editor at the e-tailer.

Roksanda, fall 2021 Courtesy of Roksanda

Blazers have been reworked in boxy silhouettes — courtesy of Acne Studios or Jacquemus — or in bright colors and cozier knitted fabrics, as in Bottega Veneta’s cropped green and turquoise knitted numbers.

Classic silhouettes, from names such as Saint Laurent, are still gaining traction, but they are now being styled with denim, dresses or knits to keep the comfort factor high.

“Many designers are conscious of this, and jacket and trouser designs have more multifunctional details to allow the customer to wear separately,” added Page.

The simple blazer-denim combination was visible across many a mega-brand’s runway, from Celine to Saint Laurent and Khaite, so it’s likely it will shape the new office uniform come next fall, according to Browns’ Tenser.

“It’s chic, polished but without being too formal or uncomfortable. Comfort is something we have all really come to value over the last year, and it will still reign into the post-lockdown corporate world,” she said, pointing to glamorous tailoring for evening as a category that’s picking up.

Maximilian, one of London’s new up-and-comers, has grabbed attention for its short skirt suits that will be stocked in Browns come fall.

Max, fall 2021 Courtesy of Max

“Maximilian may not be the most appropriate suit for a formal office setting, but it’s certainly my favorite for a really powerful, feminine mini skirt suiting option,” added Tenser.

Daniel W. Fletcher, the men’s wear designer and Netflix “Next in Fashion” star, has always had a flair for traditional British tailoring. Yet, he also spoke of the need to shift customers’ mind-sets about suits being for the boardroom only.

“I think a suit should be acceptable to wear at any time. We have this idea that has been drilled into us that a suit is something you wear to the office, but actually no one is going to the office now, and you should still be able to wear your suit and feel empowered,” said Fletcher, who offered slim tailoring with utilitarian details for his women’s wear debut in February.

There are also those who have been going the maximalist route, with extra large shoulder pads, neon hues or crystal embellishments that scream ’80s decadence and partying.

“These brands also offer beautiful novelty tailoring so customers can wear the pieces outside of a workwear setting as well,” said Mytheresa’s fashion buying director Tiffany Hsu. She name-checked the Polish designer Magda Butrym and The Attico as examples of the trend.

Attico Milano, spring 2020 Courtesy Photo

Updated workwear collections are being designed and marketed on a high street level, too, with Stitch Fix tapping the London-based designer Phoebe English, an independent brand with strong sustainable credentials and a flair for minimalism, to design a post-pandemic work capsule.

The unisex range includes loose, “dressing gown-style” coats; relaxed trousers with elasticated waistbands, and hooded shackets, a new silhouette that came to be as a result of lockdown. It mixes a traditional shirt silhouette with heavier wool fabrics associated with jackets and outerwear.

English said “the emphasis was on comfort and a soft, relaxed feeling.”

The Stitch Fix range was based upon new research commissioned by the company to identify how a year of working from home has changed U.K. shoppers’ dressing habits.

The results were clear: “The restraints of top buttons, cufflinks and heels are a thing of the past,” according to the Stitch Fix research, which identified that 72 percent of those asked now have comfort as a priority and wish for their workwear wardrobes to be less restrictive.

A third of the participants hoped for “relaxed tailoring” to become the new norm and spoke of being more productive when working in casual clothing.

At another end of the design spectrum, athleisure brands are looking at ways to upgrade sporty clothing for the office. In an interview last month Julia Straus, the chief executive officer of Sweaty Betty, said the company has been preparing for a new world of work, sport and play.

“Health, wellness, fitness are not going to go away. This category is the future,” said Straus, adding that Sweaty Betty has been developing “hybrid” clothing, as legions of workers leave home and return to the office.

“We’re asking ourselves what the ‘new normal’ is going to look like post-COVID-19, and we’re looking at versatile product — trousers that you can wear cycling and to the office, or yoga leggings you can also wear to work,” she said, pointing to a new style called the Grace, a midlayer tunic-style top with an invisible drawstring waist made from scuba-like fabric.

The Stitch Fix x Phoebe English post-pandemic workwear capsule. Courtesy of Stitch Fix

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