After two years of working from home in sweatpants and flannels, New Yorkers finally headed back to the office are freaking out about facing colleagues in their dowdy duds.
Like an adult version of back-to-school shopping, they’re scrambling to rework their wardrobes with a mix of excitement and stress as job sites reopen after COVID-19 closures.
Take Suelain Moy, of Chinatown, who after months of Zoom-powered work days, recently began a gig at a posh space. There was just one problem: she didn’t have enough socks.
A senior copywriter and digital content writer for more than 25 years, her work-from-home attire included lots of flannel shirts, UGGs and loose dresses.
“I had an all-cotton wardrobe,” Moy said. “It was just super comfortable. And then if I had a meeting where I was on Zoom or something, I would wear a nice shirt,” she said, adding that she wore her comfy clothes below the waist.
Now Moy has a new job — as a creative content manager of MCR Hotels — and a new office.
“So all of a sudden I’m in this beautiful, stunning office. Just gorgeous,” she said. “And I’m like, oh my gosh… I’m in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ now.”
On her lunch break, Moy had to buy socks and said making the transition from “clothes that had no waistband to clothes that had waistbands was a big deal.”
Moy is not alone in having to re-adapt to dressing for the office.
“Everyone is buying comfortable, but stylish, contemporary, very fresh-looking styles, but with a little bit of stretch, because it’s versatile,” designer Sally Wu explained.
Wu, creative director and owner of act.1, a Manhattan-based company that develops styles for brands like Bloomingdale’s, said people are ready to dress up.
“But no one wants to wear restricting clothes,” she added.
That’s also true for men shopping for new business-casual looks.
Jordan Bennett, director of financial and policy communications at American Express, said his return to the office is an exciting chance to finally wear a full outfit.
“When working virtually I’m usually wearing joggers or running shorts on the bottom,” the 32-year-old Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn resident said. “[But] I still treat the top half of my body — which is visible on camera at times — as I would for in-person meetings.
“For me, comfortable clothing like running shorts supports productivity,” Bennett said, adding that he has the choice to go back to the office, stay home or create a hybrid schedule.
Bennett, who describes his style as “polished modern aesthetic,” said he had to go shopping before going to work in-person because some of his clothes didn’t fit and he had to pick up a few pieces to complement what he has.
A study published in January in the Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research and Review found that 48% of American gained weight during the first year of the pandemic. Wu thinks that could explain the popularity of less restrictive clothing.
Her business, which focuses on “stretchy” and “very forgiving” knitwear, doubled during the pandemic, she said.
Tim Olesky, a senior technical project manager at NBC News Digital, noticed that his clothes were feeling “a little bit tighter around the waist.”
The 50-year-old Chelsea man, who goes to his office three days a week, said his favorite work from home outfits were “a sweatshirt, a T-shirt and either sweatpants, sweatshorts or maybe jeans.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, I was, like, ‘OK, this is great.’ And then after a year, I went, ‘OK, I’m ready to go back into the office,’” Olesky said.
He’s since swapped his hoodies for “dress pants, a button-down shirt and shoes.”
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New York City designer Jasmine Chong, 34, said, “People are excited to dress up a little again, but in a way that is relevant to their lifestyles.” Clothes now should be both fun and versatile, she said since, “the lines between work and leisure have blurred over the last two years.”
For new mom Laura Facussé, a director of strategy at the Manhattan luxury wellness center, The Well, those blurred lines are helpful in her role as the working mother of an 11-month-old boy.
“Now, more than ever, I value clothes that are easier to move in,” Facussé said. While she favors sweatpants when working from home, she said, “some people [at work] dress super trendy, so I’m trying to up my game.”
“I found certain pieces that I just keep reusing and reusing and reusing,” said the 35-year-old Upper East Sider. Among those key pieces are a pair of “velvety green pants that are super comfortable and baggy.” She wears the pants with “fun” turtlenecks or a “quirky sweater” to make them work, she said.
And that’s exactly the advice Wu has for those who are panicking over their back-to-office outfits.
“Buy something that can pair with what they already have,” she said. “And just a splash of color can bring your clothes to life.”