Don’t sweat the sweats


As people have been forced to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many have taken to working in their sweatpants rather than stepping into more work-appropriate attire.

In the week after federal authorities recommended that citizens “Stay Home, Stay Safe,” the NPD Group, an American market research company, surveyed adults 18 and over and learned 48% of the respondents said they wore active wear and sweats all day. The survey also showed 46% of those surveyed said they also wore pajamas and loungewear all day.

The work-from-home movement also has given rise to the term “mullet” wardrobe. This is when workers wear dress attire on top for the sake of video conferencing, but less work appropriate attire below.

Alyssa Anderson of Wolcott, an executive for a nonprofit organization, shows her work-at-home attire. Anderson likes to wear clothing that keeps her comfortable but still keeps her in the right frame of mind to get her job done.

“With our new world of working at home, everyone wants every day to be casual Friday,” said Hannah Vitarelli, a Waterbury-based fashion stylist.

Teresa Nakouzi, a reading specialist for 6- to 8-year-olds, said, “I do feel that when I invest in the time to look together, I feel more confident and professional.”

For Nakouzi, a Waterbury native, this means wearing makeup and earrings. Also, it means wearing sweatpants.

“Sweatpants are definitely acceptable,” she said. “I am seen waist up only (during distance learning classes) and since I am seated in my kitchen for so many hours of my day, I really need to be comfortable.”

Susan Pagan of Brookfield, a fashion consultant for My Strongest Suit, also feels no qualms about wearing sweats while working from home. “Not everyone has an office set up at home and comfort may be key to being productive,” she said.

Savannah Giammarco, an events coordinator for iHeartRadio, wears the sweatpants she uses as she works from home. The athletic wear is comfortable but clean, she said, to show respect for her job as she shelters in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. PHOTO by MIKE CHAIKEN

As an event specialist with iHeartRadio’s KC101, Savannah Giammarco of Middletown already had a good deal of wardrobe leeway before COVID-19. And she has no problem with people dressing comfortably while working from home.

However, she said, “I think there’s a fine line between casual and too casual. Be comfy, but also be respectful to your co-workers and your company.”

“If you decide to wear sweats,” Giammarco said, “I think it’s important to just be aware of how you’re wearing them. There are some really cute and comfortable sweats/ joggers that actually look more dressy.”

And if you wear sweats while working from home, make sure they’re clean and not torn, Giammarco said. “Wear (those) around the house or to bed … (they’re) definitely not appropriate for the work place.”

Pagan likes her sweats but does see some practical exceptions for when you wear them at work.

“I do believe that if you were doing a Zoom meeting or an interview or anything where you may be visualized, then it really is best to be in business casual as opposed to wearing sweats,” Pagan said. “What you wear truly does set your mood and tone for the day … so if you have something important or out of the ordinary to do on that workday, you really should try to dress the part. Sometimes putting on a great outfit will just put you in a better frame of mind, especially if you have to deal with something more serious or very important.”

Vitarelli concurred. “I find myself to feel better and more productive when I get fully dressed.”

“I personally believe that in order to perform your best, you need to feel your best,” said Wolcott’s Alyssa Anderson, an executive for a Connecticut nonprofit. “For me this means putting on a dress shirt, blouse or sweaters and jeans.”

“This isn’t the normal attire I would chose to wear in a business setting,” Anderson said. However, it reflects a life where working at home is a necessity.

“Getting dressed into something other than sweatpants helps me maintain a sense of normalcy and stay on task.”

If you feel the need to dress comfortably, Anderson suggested veering away from the sweatpants and wearing clean black leggings instead. And with those leggings, Anderson said you should wear a dressy top or sweater.

The “mullet” wardrobe has its proponents and its detractors.

“I’m not a fan of the ‘mullet’ look of business on top and then wearing sweats on the lower half,” Pagan said. “What if you have to stand up and walk around during a Zoom meeting?”

Vitarelli was in favor of going mullet. “(It’s) totally fine,” she said. But, if you go mullet, “Make sure you keep the camera high.”

Giammarco said, “I’ve been totally guilty of mullet wardrobes. If you’re going to be sitting down the entire time, no one is going to know.”

Although casual is the new normal while working at home during the pandemic, Vitarelli didn’t think the change will be permanent. “The workplace is supposed to look professional and be productive,” she said.

Nakouzi said, “I think everybody, no matter what our job, will be looking for our own sense of normalcy.”

But Anderson said dress codes may be worth revising after the crisis is over.

“If you have a meeting with a business professional, you will want to dress in business attire,” she said. “But I believe days spent in the office should allow more freedom of expression in style and in comfort levels.”