By MIKE CHAIKEN
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced many offices and businesses to shut down last March, encouraging those employees who could to work remotely from home, workplace dress codes were set aside and every day became a dress-down day.
But a year later, with vaccines having a positive effect on infection rates, employers are welcoming employees back to their offices. For some workers, the return to workplace attire is not entirely welcome. For others, dressing up again couldn’t come soon enough.
The Conference Board, an independent business membership and research association, said even after the pandemic is over, there likely is going to be a hybrid model where some workers don’t come into the office at all or infrequently. The board said this will likely occur because employers did not see any reduction in productivity among those working from home.
Before the pandemic, and before the order came to work from home, Plymouth’s Sarah Mitchell, 37, was expected to dress “business professional.” This meant that when she reported to work as a development associate at the Chrysalis Center, she wore skirts, dresses, jackets, slacks, button-down shirts, no-logo T-shirts, no flip flops or open black sandals.
Molly Westfall, formerly of Harwinton, followed a similar pulled-together dress code at her job as an admissions officer at the University of Bridgeport. The 27-year-old said she could be found in business casual, dresses, dress pants, blazers and sweaters in the office. Jeans were only allowed on Fridays.
But when Mitchell and Westfall were told to stay home to work, their wardrobe shifted.
Mitchell said she went more casual, but not too casual, when she pulled up to her work space at home. She would wear sweaters, occasionally a hooded sweat shirt, jeans or more casual pants. However, Mitchell said, “(I) never wore sweatpants, leggings or yoga pants.”
“I have always felt you need to get dressed to go to work because it helps you focus.”
When she was working from home, Westfall said, “I’d wake up in the morning and change into a clean pair of sweats until it was time to wear pajamas again.”
“When we started utilizing Zoom and video calls, especially with students, the sweatpants would stay on but my hoodie was replaced with a nice sweater or blouse. Something that gave the illusion I was ‘put together.’”
Phalla Touch, a senior delivery assurance analyst at Sikorsky Aircraft, said she’s had no push back on guidance from her office about how she should dress when working from home. So, she has set aside her dresses for joggers and sweatpants. If the home office calls, the 43-year-old said, she makes a slight concession. “I wear a nicer shirt,” she said.
Theresa Ceresky of Boynton Beach, Fla., said her office, where she is a senior accountant, provides strict guidance on what she and her co-workers could wear at the workplace. Ceresky, 55, said, “The company did have a strict dress code — business attire, no jeans, sneakers, T-shirts or shorts. Women’s skirts were limited to no shorter than one inch above knee and straps on shirts could be no thinner than one inch. Men had to have collared shirts. Also V-neck shirts on women were a no-no.
“If you didn’t meet the dress code, you would be asked to go home,” she said.
All of that has gone out the window as Ceresky and her co-workers continue to work from home indefinitely.
“We have a company Zoom call once a month,” Ceresky said. “Most folks online … are in T-shirts.”
Women weren’t the only workers who slipped into something more comfortable as they worked from home. Men also shifted their wardrobes
Rob Glassman, a New Haven school teacher, made an immediate wardrobe shift when he was told to teach from home. The Branford resident said now that he teaches via Google, “I wake up and dress in pajama-like pants, T-shirt and no socks.”
Even Glassman’s eyes took the dress-down approach. When he went into school, Glassman said he made a point of putting in his contact lenses. Now, he said he just wears his glasses.
Some workers are finding that the more casual attire at home indicates that productivity isn’t necessarily boosted by a strict dress code.
Tabitha Koscinski, 47, of North Branford, followed the wardrobe dictates of her job when she had to. But now that she’s working from home, the insurance customer service representative said now realizes “no one cares what you are wearing as long as you don’t look homeless or like a slob. You can do your job well regardless of wardrobe.”
Grace Gagnon, a former Bristol resident now working in Boston as a product marketing manager, agrees with Koscinski. “WFH has proven that you don’t need to be in a suit or pencil skirt to be efficient,” she said.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the stereotypical work from home outfit was sloppy sweats, pajamas and fuzzy slippers. The longer the work from home orders lasted, the outfits worn began to morph.
Hartford’s Erika Porras, 24, said her attire definitely has evolved.
“I wore sweats and hoodies for the first week and I felt sluggish and unmotivated,” said Porras, who works in insurance.
Porras said she made a conscious effort to be more structured in her WFH attire.
“I started to create a routine of ‘getting ready for work’ even though work was in my kitchen,” she said. “I would do my hair and throw on workout/athleisure apparel and maybe some light mascara. This helped my mood and my performance.”
Some workers, though, are looking forward to leaving that wardrobe choice behind.
“To be honest,” Touch said, “I would love to wear my dresses, boots and tights again. I felt ‘prettier and more professional’ in that attire.”
Ceresky said her office is unlikely to back away from remote work any time soon.
However, the Florida accountant said, “If we do go back, I will be looking forward to dressing up every day. I honestly feel more professional in that sense and miss feeling that way.”
“I will be excited to dress in business casual again,” Gagnon said. “My only concern is carving out extra time in the mornings to pick and outfit and get ready for the office.”
Bloomfield’s Monique Butler, who works for the East Hartford school district, also said she appreciates dressing for work.
“I personally enjoyed getting dressed up for work because I love the seasonal changes with the weather which allows me to express myself through fashion,” she said. “Once I return to work, I will maintain my initial attire before the lockdown.”
Mitchell, an employee at a social service agency, has already gone back to work. And she has willingly returned to the more structured, pre-COVID-19 dress code.
“For me, dressed in professional attire while at work puts me in the mindset to work,” Mitchell said. “Too casual of a feel makes me feel lazy and unmotivated.”
However, Westfall said it will be harder for her to return to the previous dress codes.
“My roommate and I joke that our work clothes from last year are probably out of style since we haven’t shopped to keep up with the times,” she said.