Ditch the sweatpants! How lockdown has changed the working wardrobe

With so many working from home, the last year has definitely had an effect on what PRs are wearing these days. We find out how the working wardrobe has changed and what the best dressed PRs are likely to be wearing in the future.

What I wear WFH 

I’m dressing up 

Catherine Warrilow, head of PR and content at Mecca Bingo: “I’ve actually found I’m dressing up more – partly because I’m seeing myself staring back on all of the Zoom calls! And I feel more productive if I feel confident about my appearance. But, that’s just my top half – although I’m usually in jeans rather than joggers because again I feel more ‘me’ when I’m properly dressed (and with the number of Amazon, DPD and postman visits I’d rather open the door looking semi-presentable!).

“So the important bits have really been details – earrings, necklaces and hair accessories – which I definitely think have developed my personal style. That’s what’s important; office or not, PR or any profession, is that you dress as you – whatever makes you feel good.”

My dress code is the same

Vicky Stoakes, communication director at PR agency Red Setter: “My dress code hasn’t changed much over the past year. I still have the ‘dress the part, be the part’ mental attitude instilled from my early PR days when bosses would openly call out questionable dressing (even sending people home to get changed before client meetings).

“Thankfully the dress code has relaxed since then, but for me I’d never consider doing a Zoom call half dressed (no PJs or joggers in hiding here).

“For me what I wear is intrinsically linked to my mindset. It’s a powerful mental thing. Dressing well, gets me into my professional zone and affects how I feel about myself (and I assume how others see me). I’ve even worn lipstick and perfume every day in lockdown. Being present in the office will simply mean no more slippers.”

Comfort is important

Rianne Mason, digital PR account manager at agency Radioactive PR: “Having primarily worked in lifestyle consumer PR agencies, I have always dressed smart-casual, however, when I WFH, I won’t wear uncomfortable clothes, because why would I? This being said, I can’t stay in pyjamas all day. I usually change into my ‘day pyjamas’, so I have some sort of normality and routine.”

Casual rules

Tracy Nolan, director of agency Nolan PR and founder of PressPlugs journalist request service: “I’ve been very casual at home this past year, sometimes in my PJs until lunchtime, but always drawn big black lines between what I wear at home and what I wear when I’m in the office. Speaking to professional friends, many feel the same.”

I live in leggings

Bryony Samson, SEO executive at search marketing agency Session Media: “I think I can safely say, like the majority, I have lived in leggings and jumpers for the past year. I miss my 'nice' work clothes but after trying a few on last week, the lockdown lbs have not been kind!” 

Case study

From wellies to Gabor ankle boots

Sue Cade, PR specialist and writer www.intherightorder.co.uk: “I’ve worked from home for years so I’m used to dressing down – sometimes sitting at my desk in wellies after my morning dog walk. But before the pandemic I regularly attended client meetings and I’d always dress the part. I’ve never been one for high heels and polished nails, I’m comfortable with smart casual. After a year of Zoom meetings and living permanently in jeans, I found I’d almost forgotten how. My first face-to-face client meetings caused me real panic. I tried on outfit after outfit, everything felt so formal. In the end I plumped for chinos, a smart top and my lovely Gabor ankle boots (I have a thing about boots). The thing I’m fretting about is returning to actual awards events. Glamming up doesn’t come naturally to me, although I’ve done it enough times to wing it. Actually, that’s the only occasion I do wear nail polish!”

What I wear out 

Heels are off!

Catherine Warrilow: “I don’t think I can go back to heels! I put a pair on the other day as a trial and wow, agony! So flats from now – especially when trekking around to see people at their offices.”

No sweatpants in public 

Sam Burne James, PR and communications professional: "You only need to think about the stories and speculation around what the Royal Family were going to wear for the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral, to realise how significant and fraught the topic can be in some circles. That said, unless you are actually dealing with members of the royal family or military, or perhaps the fashion industry, I'd say don't sweat it. But also, don't wear sweatpants in public. If in doubt, go slightly smarter than you think is necessary. And when it comes to virtual meetings, I think a clean, professional backdrop is more important than your outfit.

"Most importantly though, if you do find yourself with a whole load of formalwear in your wardrobe which you know you're not going to use, please consider donating it to a charity, like Dress for Success or Suited & Booted, which give formalwear plus interview and CV tips to disadvantaged or unemployed people, helping boost their confidence and potential transform their lives."

The more presentable, the better

Sarah Newton, director of agency Penguin PR: “I absolutely cannot wait to ditch my joggers and wear some of my lovely work clothes once again. During lockdown I have had to force myself to put make-up on and make an effort for Zoom calls – but on the top half only! It will be such a pleasure to make the effort to look professional once again and I think it’s vital for the workplace. The way you dress presents a visual image of your business and sends a message that you are competent and capable.

“We live in an image-obsessed world and the more presentable you are the better it reflects your brand. If we ‘dress for success’ we have a more positive mindset and are probably more productive too. The only challenge now is how to lose the lockdown weight so I can fit in my workwear once again!”

I enjoy being smart

Tracy Nolan: “I’m delighted to be dressing up again. I’ve probably only used 10% of my wardrobe over the past year and I’ll be glad to meet people again having a real sense of occasion for dressing to impress.

“I expect clothes sales will pick up dramatically in the coming months as many will have found they have either lost or put on weight during lockdown. All I know is I’ve had my hair done now and I’m fortunate in that I’m ready and able to meet the world again.”

There are no strict rules

Rianne Mason: “I’m sure I’ll regret saying this five months into the office normality, struggling to choose an outfit every day, but for now, I am so excited to put on a floral dress and get out my nice handbag to head to work! Truthfully, I think you should wear what you want to work. If you feel better in a loose-fitting dress and flat shoes rather than a tight dress and heels, then you’re going to feel yourself, and when you feel yourself you’re happier, and when you’re happier, life is better. So, strict clothing rules really should be left in 2020, with a lot of other things!”

Now that PRs are getting out and about more, it will be interesting to see whether snappy dressing will rule, or whether some of the more casual elements from working from home (apart from sweatpants) will be creeping into working wardrobes.