Ties and high heels as hybrid return to the office sets off a comfortable and relaxed boom

  • The return to the office stimulates a new demand for smart casual
  • Global clothing brands jump on a new trend
  • “Fashion has changed”, say consumers

MADRID, October 6 (Reuters) – Spanish fashionista Blanca Lorca has once sworn in high heels and fitted clothes for the office, but the COVID-19 lockdown has transformed her sense of style and shopping habits.

After months of working in her stylish Madrid apartment, the 31-year-old worker at a pharmaceutical company now dresses in neutral tones and casual outfits for her three days a week at the office as a partial return looms in the whole world.

Eighteen months in loungewear while working remotely during the pandemic has left professionals across Europe on the hunt for new wardrobes as they embrace hybrid work.

It’s a godsend for hard-hit retailers.

The emphasis on comfort may have banned ties, dress shoes, and high heels, but it has spurred a new desire for versatile clothing: stylish enough for the office, yet casual enough for kitchen table conferencing. .

Sales of personal clothing – including clothing, footwear, and cosmetics – actually rose 8.5% in the 12 months leading up to August, as increased mobility and back-to-office mandates boosted purchases, according to official data.

In Britain, more than a quarter of those polled by the workplace consultancy firm Office Group said they would continue to dress less formally even back in the office, while nearly a third parties are planning to experiment with different styles, according to a note from Bank of America.

“After being at home for so long, you prefer comfort, but at the same time you want to be stylish enough to be able to go out,” said Lorca, wearing a light shirt and baggy pants as she was browsing the shelves in Zubi, a small shop in Madrid.

“I’m looking for clothes that will last, that won’t go out of style (and) that I can use for anything.”

PAJAMAS AND ZOOM

The big brands pay attention to it.

Retailers such as Zara (ITX.MC), Mango and H&M (HMb.ST) are highlighting ‘smart’ pants, shirts and dresses on their websites, alongside loungewear and sportswear that the lockdowns have made. ubiquitous.

Many big fashion brands have launched new collections for this unique back-to-work season, as easing restrictions and vaccination campaigns promote mobility.

Department store El Corte Ingles, a household name in Spain, said demand for comfortable office clothing increased over the summer, accelerating in September as customers returned to offices and meetings. business.

The stores successfully reaching pre-pandemic sales levels the fastest are those selling casual or hybrid workwear, according to analysts and fashion retail sources in London and Madrid, where vaccination rates raised in Europe have helped life recover.

Women whose employers demanded partial returns kept the blouse they would sometimes have worn over the pajama bottoms for Zoom calls, but now pair it with easy pants and flats, told Reuters Zubi’s owner, Elena Zubizarreta.

More than 78% of Spaniards are fully vaccinated and around 80% of all workers have returned at least part-time, according to a survey by CCOO, the country’s largest union.

Few, however, missed the restrictions of formal clothing.

Spanish designer Maite Casademunt flaunts one of her outfits backstage before her runway show during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Madrid, Spain on September 16, 2021. REUTERS / Sergio Perez

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Alberto Gavilan, director of talents at the Addeco recruiting agency, said formal wear was now the exception. “Most people will prefer the business casual code, which has proven to be so effective and comfortable in recent months,” he said.

“FASHION HAS CHANGED”

More than half of Spaniards who formally dressed for work before the pandemic were excited to buy new clothes for a return to work, a survey carried out in June by research firm Dynata – the highest rate among 11 countries surveyed.

The British and Japanese were the least enthusiastic, at 19% and 21% each.

Spanish price comparison site Idealo.es said online searches for sports tracksuits fell 96% from January to August as the vaccination rate increased.

“Fashion has changed and after almost two years away from the workplace you want to have new things to do,” said Valme Pardo, communications specialist, posing in bold printed dresses, loose pants and stretchy blazers on her bed in her Madrid home.

Men also seek comfort.

Lucia Danero, shopping advisor at El Corte Ingles in Madrid, has noticed a flood of shoppers looking for refreshment: but men never ask to try on ties again.

“Before, it was unthinkable for a man to go to the office in a sweatshirt … and now you see it,” she said, walking down the aisles and pointing to the jeans that men wear. business were now looking.

‘RELAXED CITY’

The trend is global.

International brands Vince, Me + Em, Uniqlo and The White Company, as well as American and British retailers such as Nordstrom and John Lewis, dedicate ‘a site space to modern workwear, with a strong emphasis on pieces. off season to ensure versatility and longevity, ”said the Stylus trends intelligence agency in a recent report.

In fact, although workplace mobility is still 30% lower than pre-pandemic rates, clothing sales are on average 5% higher in major Western markets, Jefferies Bank said in a statement. note to customers in September.

Fashion giant Inditex’s physical and online sales were even 9% higher in August and the first week of September than before the pandemic.

The fall / winter season is off to a good start, Inditex Executive Chairman Pablo Isla told a conference, before announcing that the next Massimo Dutti collection would be called “Relaxed City”.

Yet even as demand recovers, retailers grapple with disruptions to global supply chains: Sales at H&M grew less than expected in the third quarter, before being hampered in September by restrictions on sales. supply.

“There is an urge to dress up after spending so much time at home … but we have gotten used to being comfortable and we want … clothes such as blazers and unlined jackets , wider pants and intricate knits, ”said Ann-Sofie Johansson, Creative Advisor at H&M.

Backstage at Madrid Fashion Week, designers bet on fresh starts – which appeared to include bright, unrestricted dresses and colorful sweaters.

“The heels were left for very specific times … But everyday people got rid of them, to be much more comfortable”, explained the Spanish designer Maite Casademunt, whose collection “Comfy Wild” was dominated by dresses, chic. loungewear and sports shoes.

Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette and Corina Pons in Madrid; Additional reporting by Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm, Joyce Philippe and Arriana Mclymore in New York and Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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