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Social distancing measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus have forced millions of workers to do their jobs from home rather than the office. This transition has brought a long list of new challenges to sort out, from technical issues to improvised desks and disruptions from unruly children.
One of the questions everyone who is new to the work-from-home lifestyle has faced is what to wear when your bedroom suddenly becomes your workspace. Most offices have an established set of sartorial rules, whether it’s a formal dress code or just part of workplace culture. Moving work into the home means those guidelines are gone.
Unsurprisingly, many workers have chosen to abandon their office wardrobe in exchange for their coziest outfits. Others have taken to dressing professionally only from the waist up, since legs are hidden during most videoconference calls. Walmart’s sales of tops have outpaced pants sales since lockdown measures were put in place. This strategy comes with some risk, however.
Why there’s debate
Workers have celebrated their newfound freedom from stuffy dress codes as one of the silver linings of stay-at-home orders. But experts say there’s reason to believe that lounging through the workday in sweatpants and a ratty old T-shirt could come off as unprofessional, hurt productivity and even be harmful to mental health.
Some business experts say employees who appear underdressed during conference calls could be perceived as not taking the job seriously, even if their work output remains strong. Sticking to a daily routine that’s as close as possible to the one practiced before lockdown, including getting dressed, can also boost productivity by signaling to the brain that it’s time to get things done. Without that trigger, it can be hard to transition the mind from leisure to work, some psychologists say.
Mental health experts say maintaining a routine can be one of the most important ways to prevent depression and anxiety during extended periods of isolation. Dressing up can be a key part of that routine.
Advocates for dressing down say that wearing casual clothes can itself be a form of self-care. During these incredibly stressful times, workers deserve to be comfortable and save themselves the effort of having to pick out clothes no one may ever see, they argue. Employers should allow individual workers to make the choice for themselves, some say. Professional attire might be a key part of maintaining productivity and a healthy headspace for some people. Others may find it to be a burden that offers no real benefits to them.
Keep it professional
Stick to your office’s formal dress code if it has one
“If your job came with an explicit dress code, it stands to reason that you should adhere to that dress code when you’re doing your job — whether you’re going to be visible to your boss, your coworkers or customers or not. It’s not only a sign of respect. It also demonstrates your ability to follow the rules even when no one is watching.” — Adam Tschorn, Los Angeles Times
Even productive workers can come off as lazy if they’re dressed sloppily
“The disruption also means some people aren’t looking as crisp as usual because they haven’t been able to visit barbers, hairdressers, nail salons, gyms and dry cleaners. But employees generally shouldn’t give off an appearance of slacking off just because they are working from home.” — Ray A. Smith, Wall Street Journal
Finding a balance between comfort and overdressing is key
“One of the trickier parts of working from home ... is knowing how to balance the respectability/comfort equation. The sloppy-smart index as I like to call it. Veer too far towards comfort and you’ll ignore spreadsheets in favour of your PlayStation. Go too far the other way and you’re wearing a suit while working at a desk you’ve fashioned from an ironing board. Like a psychopath.” — Finlay Renwick, Esquire
Dressing well can put you in the right headspace to work
“So, if you’re dressed like a slob and you are in your sweat clothes, you’re either prepared to work out at the gym or clean out the basement, but you’re not doing anything professional or mentally challenging, and that spills over into your motivation and confidence.” — Psychology professor Francis T. McAndrew to Vogue
Getting dressed can be part of a routine that breaks the monotony of being stuck inside
“A lot of what people are experiencing right now is a disruption of their routine. When you don’t know what’s coming next, that can be a challenging thing for some people, so a lot of it is about having some semblance of what your day and week looks like. Knowing what’s coming next can be comforting.” — Psychologist De’Von Patterson to HuffPost
Your home is your office now
“You may think that because you are not physically in a literal office, standards may be allowed to drop, just slightly, as a humane accommodation, and that no harm will be done. You are wrong! Your home is now your office. Do not treat any region of your home, no matter how remote, as though it is not the domain of your employer.” — Alexandra Petri, Washington Post
You don’t need to dress like you’re in the office to get work done
“Don’t buy into the idea that wearing uncomfortable clothing, whether it’s jeans or suits, somehow makes you more productive and more presentable to the world. You’re working out of your house right now. It’s time to get cozy.” — Stacey Leasca, Los Angeles Times
Anything that makes it easier to stay home and avoid spreading the virus is worthwhile
“Now that we’re in quarantine, my inside clothes are a reminder that I’m doing my part, and that I should enjoy the inertia. For the foreseeable future, we’re living our lives inside in order to be mindful of one another’s health and security, our collective well-being and peace of mind. Inside clothes are a way to practice that, while also being kind to ourselves.” — Connie Wang, Refinery29
Dress codes should go away even after the pandemic is over
“The more comprehensive the expectations for presentation, the more resources required to meet them, and buying a closetful of work wear is a lot more expensive than just using what you already own. Racial bias, or at least blind spots, has also been embedded in dress codes, perhaps most notably in prohibitions on hairstyles popular among black people, such as braids and afros.” — Amanda Mull, Atlantic
Dressing comfortably can alleviate the stress of living through a pandemic
“We are all going through an unprecedented and stressful time in history. If folks aren’t up for dressing for the cyber world as they would in the office, that is completely understandable. We can cut ourselves some slack if, mentally, we’re just not up for the pomp and circumstance.” — Psychology professor Rheeda Walker to Today
It depends entirely on the individual
“For some work-from-homers, comfort-first attire is a source of shame — a symptom of broken routines and under-motivation. For others, it’s ultimate liberation.” — Kelly Murray, CNN
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