Over the past year and a half, our habits and lifestyles have changed—and so has our daily wardrobe. Now, as people return to the office full- or part-time and parties start back, we’ve got questions about the dress code, which may have become more relaxed in the workplace while simultaneously more festive for long-awaited fun.
“We’re tired of being too casual,” says Kevin Knaus, a fashion and retail consultant and educator. “We’re bored with the yoga pants.” He’s predicting renewed interest in color, in print, in nostalgic glamour. At the same time: We’ve discovered comfort, and we’re not about to let it go. Expect roomier silhouettes for both men and women, performance fabrics, and transitional looks that can be dressed up or down—all trends we’d been moving toward, now accelerated by the pandemic. (In other words, this year may have been the nail in the coffin for the cumbersome neckties and ungainly stilettos, but so too the dowdy sweats.) Eight local fashion and design experts tell us how they’re adjusting and what they predict we’ll be stepping into this fall.
Women who have gotten accustomed to ditching tight waistbands and heels for work may not be willing to fall back into those constraints, though they are ready to look sophisticated again, says womenswear designer Ann Mashburn. “Women want to feel feminine and refined—but comfortable,” she says. “Dresses right now are very democratic in terms of fit: loose and easy.” She also cites the Faye pant—a version of a dressy yoga pant—that can be worn to a meeting or out to dinner but feels like what you’d want to wear sitting on your sofa. Mashburn says they’re doing more knits, incorporating Lycra, and introducing an elegant version of a track suit, in cashmere. Generally, higher heels have taken a back seat to lower, wider, more fun and forgiving stylish flats and block heels—Mashburn’s dressy, low-heeled buckle shoe remains a bestseller.
Of course, Knaus notes, what you wear to work depends not only on the type of job but also on what your new schedule looks like. If you’re continuing to work from home, you may be investing in statement tops for video conferences. If you’re back full-time, maybe you’re casualizing the businesswear a bit. On the other hand, if you’re going back for just a couple of days a week, maybe you’ll be jazzed to impress when you do go in.
Womenswear designer Megan Huntz agrees: “I’m hearing women looking for ‘first day back at the office’ outfits like they once looked for new back-to-school clothes,” she says. At the same time, they’re minimizing their wardrobes, investing in quality items. Who didn’t do a pandemic closet clean-out? Now, women are gravitating toward easy-to-wear, easy-to-launder pieces from brands, Huntz says, that align with their values after a year of turmoil. “Customers are giving me the sense they’ve chilled out from the rat race,” she says. “They’re shopping with their values—whether it’s shopping small and local, sustainability, or human rights. They’re less caught up in trends and fashion seasons. We’ve almost been there the past few years, but it’s been pushed over the edge.” At Huntz’s eponymous shop on North Highland Avenue, she’s releasing new easy staples, like a popover-style shirtdress and a long-sleeved linen dress that can also be worn open for layering in fall.
The Future of the Suit
“As long as lawyers are lawyers, there will be suits,” says Craig Arthur von Schroeder, founder of Commonwealth Proper, a menswear brand based in Philadelphia and Atlanta. “But machinations toward technology, comfort, and sustainability are changing it.” Look for a chiller, softer fit with less construction. The City Suit is CMMP’s answer to questions about reentry to society. Crafted in a wrinkleproof, waterproof, high-tech Swiss textile with a bit of stretch, the suit is unconstructed and unlined, able to be worn as a suit or separates. Larger, flapless patch pockets give it a more utilitarian vibe than is typical for a suit jacket.
Likewise, menswear designer Sid Mashburn recently released the unconstructed and unlined Butcher jacket, which he describes as a cross between a chore coat and a blazer, and it sold out within a week. “We’ve been softening up our jackets for years—less structure, a little bit more ease—but Covid accelerated it,” he says. “At the same time, we’re straightening up the flag. We’ll always believe in the suit, in putting in an effort.”
The suit styling is changing, too. “The tie has gone the way of the dodo,” says von Schroeder, who even orchestrated a “Swoosh & Tie” program that upcycled discarded ties as the fabric swoosh on custom Nike Air Jordans with a custom sneaker factory in Philadelphia. The unstructured suits and jackets are made for tie-free looks.
If you once wore strictly white or blue shirts to your buttoned-up job, von Schroeder suggests now may be time to push the envelope with patterned shirts. CMMP’s fun BBQ shirts are a nod to what men may have worn to neighborhood cookouts in the ’50s.
Sportswear like classic polos are also seeing a resurgence, say both Mashburn and von Schroeder, who have upped their production of them this year—and Mashburn is also adding his first version of a track suit.
“People want to interact with each other, go to events again, and it’s nice to throw on a suit—you feel respectable again,” says von Schroeder. The traditional suit that is in demand right now? The tuxedo for all those postponed weddings.
Goodbye, dowdy leggings; hello, tailored sweats. “We have to wear real clothes, but we’ve learned that we value comfort,” says Archel Bernard, founder of the Bombchel boutique, a local company that employs women in Bernard’s native Liberia to create her line of African printed wrap dresses and tie-dyed sweats and jumpsuits. “We’re calling it Fine Girl Fall—and doing a lot of tailored sweats that look like pants you can wear out but still have a soft waistband.” She’s also seeing increased demand for her Thotsuit, a tie-dyed, stretch-cotton jumpsuit you may see someone sporting on the BeltLine this fall, whether out for a vigorous bike ride or dressed up with accessories for dinner.
This versatility seems to be key. Last year, El Lewis of O. Studio Design released his line of gender-neutral high-tech knits, designed to be transitional and high-performance. His spun sweater-like shirts, in new colors this fall, can be worn for activities from athletics to work or events, perhaps with a jacket thrown on top. “Now, people want to be comfortable but sophisticated, too.”
Extra Special Occasion
By all accounts, special occasions are booming, as weddings get rescheduled and long-put-off galas are reinstated. Womenswear designer Abbey Glass says her wedding orders have quadrupled since last spring. This fall, Glass is releasing her first year-round collection of special-occasion dresses. But a return to opulence doesn’t mean over-the-top design. “We’re seeing people gravitate toward simplicity, actually, despite all the talk of the Roaring ’20s,” she says. “We’re doing a lot of simple designs made special by fun color choices, rich fabrics, and little details.” And while the easy, breezy, voluminous dress may feel like what we want to wear every day, for special occasions, she doesn’t see the wide silhouette hanging around forever. “That oversized shape doesn’t work for everyone,” she says. “Some people want a little more structure, and tailoring is going to come back.” Look for waistlines, though perhaps more generously cut, to reemerge, and colors like Kelly green, cobalt blue, and deep aubergine.
Ann Mashburn agrees: “Special events feel more special than ever,” she says. “It’s a delight to go out, it’s a delight to dress up. People aren’t taking it for granted—it’s a real treat to go out.” And people are dressing accordingly.
This article appears in our September 2021 issue.