Functional over formal: How Canadians could redefine office wear as many return to work

Since entering the job market in 2011, Alva Bourque has always made sure to get dressedchoosing to wear a pencil skirt with a blazer or a long sleeve top with a tie, and of course heels, for work.

Even during her pregnancies, Bourque, who lives in Halifax, N.S. and works at a non-profit organization, dressed the same way, but the COVID-19[female[feminine the pandemic has changed the way he presents himself professionally.

Image of how Alva Bourque dressed for work in 2015 (Source: Alva Bourque)



“I still look presentable, but maybe the pandemic has made me worry about more important things than my powerful attire,” Bourque said. “I don’t need to be in a blazer and heels right now… I’m just too exhausted from this pandemic. Super exhausted.

As a mother of two children – aged three and seven – Bourque says it has been exhausting working from home while simultaneously caring for her children.

Even now, as she returns to the office four times a week, she says she has chosen to dress more comfortably in jeans or low-heeled boots.

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As public health restrictions ease, more Canadians are heading back to the office, but what they choose to wear to work will change dramatically, an expert says.

Director of the fashion graduate program at Ryerson University, Henry Navarro Delgado says the COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the way people dress and present themselves. Delgado says office clothes have changed a lot and will continue to change in the future.

“Trends die and sometimes come back. We saw something similar in the 1990s where there were much more relaxed dress codes at work due to the Silicon Valley culture,” Delgado said.

Then in the late 2010s there was a return to suits and ties for the office.

“They have become again like the mark of being well dressed. But just before the pandemic hit, that trend was waning a bit. And then with the pandemic, I think that just put the final nail in the coffin for that,” Delgado said.


Delgado also explained that there has been a shift towards casual dress codes lately. Even when people are required to dress formally these days, we are seeing a shift in this type of attire, he said.

“I’ve seen the inclusion of stretchy materials, even for suits. So there’s that extra element. There’s also definitely a lot of influence from activewear and sportswear into evening wear in this moment,” Delgado said.

“Now we have what’s called the jogger waist, which is flat in the front, and it has an elastic in the back…it has that sort of formal look, but it’s more functional,” said he added.

Even the color schemes have changed, according to Delgado. In the pre-COVID era, formal wear was dominated by grays and charcoals, but now there are lots of blues and earth tones.

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“When you see all of this, it’s clear that formal wear crosses the line from activewear,” he said.

Regarding what people think about fashion, Delgado explained that people tend to only think about clothes in particular, but another shift is happening around attire and personal appearance in general. , such as hairstyles.

“Some states in the US have passed black hair legislation, so I think there will be more acceptance of things like that…things that, from a mainstream perspective, might not be considered black hair. fashion in itself, but are actually part of the look,” Delgado said.

“You’ll start to see more acceptance of the hijab, for example, and all the different hairstyles,” he said, thanks to the change in style that’s happened because of COVID-19.


He explained that working from home due to the pandemic has given employees the upper hand, which means they have more say in their working conditions.

“Employers are much more flexible out of necessity to accommodate…including when it comes to dress codes,” Delgado said.

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Since provinces began easing restrictions, several Canadian banks, including the Bank of Canada and other institutions, have called their employees back to work.

Speaking about its dress code policy, the Bank of Canada told Global News in an email that the crown corporation does not have an official dress code policy. In fact, they never did.

“Our informal policy is ‘dress for your day.’ For example, staff may dress more casually if their day consists mainly of team meetings or head down work, but more formal dress may be expected if they are giving a presentation, greeting external visitors or meeting customers/stakeholders traveling on business,” bank spokesman Alex Paterson.

He said this approach was in place before the pandemic and will not be changed.


Either way, Delgado said, “companies will have no choice” but to relax their dress code as the work landscape has changed and become more virtual and remote.

The landscape has changed, so crucially, so fundamentally, that they have no choice but to adapt,” Delgado said.

Bourque’s workplace also has a flexible dress code bordering on casual.

“I am still in the dress code policy. It’s just that I’m not in my own standard of how I want to go,” she said. “But my clothes aren’t going anywhere…I’m just taking a break.”

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