Dressed for Zoom success: What will we wear after a year of remote work and pajamas?

COVID-19 transformed the way people work, socialize and learn on short notice. An ongoing modern plague could also shape fashion trends for years to come.

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On short notice, COVID-19 transformed the way people work, socialize, educate their children and more. Past global calamities have shifted cultural attitudes and fashion trends for decades. An ongoing modern plague and WFH en masse could similarly shape wardrobe trends moving forward. So, what will we wear out and about after a year of Zoom calls and pajama-clad business casual?

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Fashion in times of COVID-19

Historically, people update their wardrobe throughout the year, buying new clothes seasonally and, at times, impulsively. However, amid the switch to remote work and public COVID-19 restrictions, traditional retail purchases plummeted and a number of clothing retailers filed for Chapter 11. Susanna Moyer, an assistant professor at the Parsons School of Design, expects certain pre-pandemic fashion trends will continue in the months ahead.

"I feel the trends will continue in terms of what we consider comfortable clothes in our day-to-day lives whether we are working remotely or in the office. This was the trend pre-pandemic. Streetwear influenced both men's and womenswear, think about Mark Zuckerberg and his hoodies," Moyer said.

"There is also the consideration of how we transition after the pandemic and if companies have created a hybrid for workers with the option to work at home," she continued.

Dressed for Zoom success

Round-the-clock video calls have replaced in-person conferencing for many remote professionals. Needless to say, dressing for Zoom success requires comparatively fewer fashion-focused considerations. During the switch to remote work, Walmart sold more tops than bottoms; a conspicuous discrepancy that could be attributed to increased video meetings. Appealing to on-camera aesthetics could play a role in the short-term fashion choices.

"The near future will be impacted by brands looking to how they can attract consumers that are working from home such as neckline details and bright colors that can be captured on camera. Most people are not wearing woven pants or skirts, including denim, which has taken a loss in the market," Moyer said.

SEE: Juggling remote work with kids' education is a mammoth task. Here's how employers can help (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

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Over the last 12 months, many people have added a few pounds (the so-called COVID-15); further limiting past wardrobe stand-bys. As companies start to bring employees back to the traditional in-person office, the comforts of home could make their way to the workplace in some form or fashion.

"I feel most people will want to stay comfortable or need to find clothing that fits them because of the weight they have gained by staying home. Knits play a large role in comfort and fit, and I think this trend will continue as a choice and direction for brands to offer customers," Moyer said.

The trending color schemes of a given cycle also play a role in product design across industries. As TechRepublic previously reported, Pantone's annual color of the year impacts new lineups across industries from technology to retail. A year of lockdowns and isolation at home could impact the colors emblazoned on clothing lines in the months ahead.

"The palettes for the upcoming seasons are trending brighter and more colorful. Whether you are on Zoom or in the office, the thinking is that we need uplifting color to make our day-to-day lives more optimistic, and color is a great way to uplift us!" Moyer said.

Historical perspective and "new normals"

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic may be unprecedented in recent history, but worldwide calamities are not uncommon and other disruptions have left lasting impressions on fashion and cultural mores. For example, following World War II and supply rationing, Moyer said fashion designers were able to use more fabric.

"Skirts were full and femininity came back as a trend after the workforce became more female for the war effort. These are two important trends that affected fashion after the war and continued through the 1950s," Moyer said.

The coronavirus pandemic's lasting impact on fashion trends and office wardrobe expectations remain to be seen. Beyond the workplace and Zoom rooms, the switch to remote work at scale could change people's fashion-forward approach to outings and social gatherings.

"It could impact the way we look at 'dressing up' for outside activities. Some feel we will want to add more excitement to how we dress outside the home. Others feel that comfort has become a lifestyle, and the consumer will find ways to be comfortable while in public," Moyer said.

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