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The past, present and future of workwear

With the return to an office space still uncertain for most, a look into what's happened to workwear and recommendations for this new work-from-home era.

How has workwear shifted and the things retailers should consider in today’s more flexible work culture.

A return-to-the-office scenario will look different for everyone. We reflect on the biggest lessons learned in 2020, where the industry is today and what you should know to prepare workwear assortments for the year ahead.

Need help with your workwear assortment? Reach out to a Retail Specialist today.

Learnings from 2020

When business casual met top-half dressing

As many companies around the world ushered in a new era of video conferences and Zoom calls, the consumer’s wardrobe shifted as well. Comfort remained the priority while the necessity to look put together was still top of mind. The movement even extended to accessories like eyewear and jewelry as a tactic to change up your look.

In Spring 2020, favor for women’s tops was most evident in the US market, where sell outs for the category outpaced bottoms 23% to 20%. Menswear noted similar sell out rates between bottoms and tops but both regions recorded an uptick in movement for polo shirts – another indication of investment in top-half dressing.

The appetite for loungewear increased

As quarantine went into effect, the demand for comfort styles skyrocketed to accommodate increased time at home. An initial rise in hoodies, sweatpants and tracksuits was observed during the first round of lockdowns – all considered traditional loungewear. After tapering off in the summer, interest ramped back up in the fall. This peaked in the lead-up to the festive season as retailers ran promotions and specials starting around Black Friday in the US and UK.

A statistic released from Technavio revealed the year-over-year growth for the sleepwear and loungewear market is estimated at 7.6% and will experience $19.5 billion in incremental growth by 2024. According to EDITED data, mentions of “loungewear” in retailer emails increased +489% from 2019 to 2020, while mentions of “workwear” declined 31% YoY.

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Today’s landscape

The implications of a vaccination

It’s unlikely that the current WFH measures put in place at many companies will change any time soon. While several vaccines are being rolled out worldwide, a return to normal won’t be immediate. The most recent poll from Gallup revealed only 54% of women and 61% of men are willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine in America. This falls short of achieving herd immunity and calls into question whether or not employers will require vaccination proof to commute to work.

In the event your consumer returns to the office, prepare workwear assortments accordingly, including up-to-date hygiene convenience. Comfortable masks and antibacterial fabrics will be crucial in everyday wear. Additional details like pockets for hand sanitizer and built-in snoods are also on the rise.

Trends that have flourished

Trends that have suffered

Leverage wording to reposition

This year has already seen plenty of back-to-work promotions, but most are dressed up differently to accommodate those in the office and working from home. Employ these quick word shifts when featuring workwear to elongate the lifespan of your product assortment.

1. Emphasize the term “essentials” alongside versatile pieces to entice customers into a practical purchase.

2. Use words like “elevated” and “chic” to describe collections, acknowledging a smarter aesthetic while displaying multifunctionality.

3. Buzz words like “workleisure” and “luxe lounge” can shift edits for more traditional workwear brands.

What will tomorrow hold?

Efforts from Zoom

The increasingly popular video conferencing platform announced several improvements and new features at Zoomtopia in October 2020, enhancing work-from-home capabilities for its users moving forward. See below for some of the key highlights:

  • OnZoom – An online event platform that allows users to create and host free, paid and fundraising events. Other users can discover these events and sign up for new experiences with additional functions like gifting tickets and keep tabs on favorite events and brands.
  • Whiteboard enhancements – Features like infinite canvas, persistent whiteboard, snapshots and templates will aid in cross-company collaboration efforts.
  • Smart gallery – This feature serves remote workers to improve face-to-face communication by using AI to create a gallery view of all participants, giving the illusion that everyone is dialing in virtually regardless if the attendee is in-room or in a remote location.
  • Kiosk mode – Allows visitors to enter your building and engage with a virtual receptionist over Zoom.
  • Scheduling display – View the number of people already in the room and whether it’s at capacity to assist with social distancing protocols.

Changes from employers

The reality for many employers is that the WFH lifestyle will remain desirable for employees long after COVID-19 is under control. According to an online survey from LiveCareer, nearly 30% of working professionals would quit if they had to return to office after the pandemic. This means to stay competitive, companies will need to continue adapting to the new normal and offering the best remote experience or hybrid model for their employees.

Technology stipends will become increasingly popular, giving employees a predetermined amount of money to create a more comfortable and productive at-home workspace.

Google will allow a “flexible workweek” beginning in September 2021, expecting employees to spend three collaboration days in the office and working from home the remainder of the week. While Facebook, Shopify and Microsoft are among companies now offering employees the option to work from home forever.

HR departments across the board are implementing “no meetings days” and carving out intentional days of the week for various activities.

2021’s dress code

Attire around the office was becoming increasingly casual pre-pandemic and that trajectory will continue. Less emphasis on what employees are wearing means more opportunities for traditional workwear brands to enter the leisure space and for activewear brands to produce luxe pieces. Hybrid clothing will be crucial, offering up assortments that can serve a multitude of end uses.

EDITED data points in a similar direction. Loungewear (defined here by hoodies, sweatshirts, T-shirts and sweatpants) accounted for 28% of in stock products in the mass market at the end of 2020 and was up 8% YoY.

Brands like Lululemon and Sweaty Betty continue to see strong performance, where the latter of which increased its 2020 revenue by around 60% during a challenging year for most retailers.

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