March 2020 marked the beginning of an uncertain time for the entire planet, from which the fashion industry did not emerge unscathed either. At that time when confinement was imposed in much of the world, our habits and needs changed radically. Scott Sternberg was one of the designers who looked with concern for the immediate future. Just two years earlier he had founded Entireworld, the brand with which he began his second adventure in fashion, after the rise and fall of his previous firm, Band of Outsiders. Who was going to buy clothes at a time when you could hardly leave the house, he wondered. But, to Sternberg's surprise, Entireworld would experience its best sales period. One of his brand's designs, brightly colored tracksuits inspired by a children's series, multiplied his sales. While other firms saw their numbers plummet, Entireworld took off. Without intending to, Sternberg had anticipated a change in trend: while formality in dress seemed useless, comfort marked what was called "the new normal".
Since then, many things have changed, but others have also become part of the everyday scenario. One of them is a greater relaxation when dressing, especially in an area, the professional, which traditionally imposed stricter unwritten codes. After months in which video calls managed to get much of the planet only fixed from the waist up, it seems that a silent current of thought has convinced us that certain formalities are no longer necessary. That new mentality has been reflected even in the highest organs of power. Last year, during the G-7 meeting in Germany, the leaders of seven of the world's largest economies posed without a tie for the first time in the 40 years in which these summits have been held. This same year, The New York Times dedicated an article to the changes of dress in the US Senate, among which it is no longer strange to see someone wearing a sweatshirt. The pandemic has definitely accelerated something that designer Tom Ford already predicted in a 1999 interview. "Every time we work more and more in front of a computer (...). We could be working on underwear and t-shirt. Who cares? Who's going to see us?"
The death of the suit of armor
"The pandemic was a time when we started asking ourselves questions such as: what do I want to do with my life, how much and how I want to work, how I want to organize myself... and fashion is the reflection of society at all times," explains Manuel García, from the tailoring firm García Madrid. From his experience, he confirms that "it has changed the way we dress and the way we want to show ourselves to others. We have been evolving towards a more relaxed fashion in daily life, at work and a more sophisticated touch at night and at holiday events." His firm has long detected these changes and bets on a greater variety that distances itself from the classic suit. "Teleworking, more relaxed social norms or the approach to others has made the way of dressing adapt to this lifestyle and there are new aesthetic canons at work. The casual style has triumphed and for the moment there is no turning back." In the case of García Madrid, it is specified by the "abandonment of the tie, use of sports shoes with suits and relegate the suit to events of a more formal nature and not so much to day to day".
The 'New Yorker' magazine carried to its cover on December 7, 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, Adrian Tomine's illustration of a woman teleworking and formally dressed only from the waist up.
The biggest victim of this change has been, therefore, the combination of suit and tie, for decades the immovable symbol of work seriousness. Although in some professional sectors it was already perceived as a vestige of the past, the pandemic has been the definitive step for other professions to keep it definitively in the closet. Carlos Rey, a food quality consultant, explains: "When I started, they told us that the suit was the consultant's armor." That clothing that provided seriousness and distance definitely collapsed during confinement. "On the one hand, when you are already more confident, you don't feel the need to take refuge in that armor. On the other hand, from working by video call, many people have relaxed and realized that it is not necessary for professionals to dress in suits and ties. We have seen each other in more normal situations of our daily lives, in our homes. In the end, it was normal to see a customer wearing a T-shirt," he says.
A new scenario in the office
As in any moment of change, there is also a certain bewilderment. After decades in which dressing to go to work was as simple as choosing which tie best matched which suit, now the options are wider. Where is the line between the acceptable and the too casual? As usual, it depends on the eye that looks at it. "I do fashion consulting and clothing and accessories design, but part of that work also involves being attentive to what clothes arrive, how they are exposed, and I have noticed in recent times that streetwear and urban wear have grown a lot," explains designer Rubén Gómez. "Now we even see more managers going in sneakers. What was casual Friday [some companies invited their workers to come on Fridays with more informal and relaxed clothes] now extends to a casual daily. "
This irruption of streetwear, already intimately linked to urban luxury, gains more and more ground at a time when the paradigms of successful entrepreneur, from Mark Zuckerberg to Elon Musk, have accustomed us to the fact that the person who marks the designs of a large part of the consumers of the planet does so by supporting his limited edition sneakers on the table of his office. "Now dressing and grooming does not mean putting on suits," explains María Payá, specialist in men's stores at the Madrid store WOW Concept. "More technical fabrics can be used, in which comfort prevails." "Now you don't use a suit with a shirt so much, but you also combine it with a shirt, with a more relaxed style. We are also seeing that more shoes are used and not so much shoes, "says Sergio Pérez, his partner in WOW Concept and streetwear specialist.
Despite these changes in what is acceptable to dress in certain professional sectors, there are old habits that are difficult to overcome, and the business centers of Madrid or Barcelona are still not Silicon Valley in terms of freedom of style. "When we go shopping, they always show us very interesting products but we know that the Spanish man still costs them," says Payá. "There are a lot of people you still can't get out of their skinny pants. It's true that in quarantine people spent a lot of time on social networks and there has been a little more brand awareness, so they ask for pieces that are a little more special."
However, taboo clothing still exists in certain work environments. "Very loose or printed jeans, colorful suits... Anything very out of the ordinary we would never bet on buying it, beyond some special pieces, "says Payá. Another is, without a doubt, the use of shorts in summer, still the great pending issue in almost all offices. One of the ICON editorial staff still remembers when, in a previous job, wearing this garment earned him a reprimand. "My deputy director told me: the president is going to get angry if he sees you in those pants. I was a newcomer and didn't know it was a norm, but it was, so she was right. Sometimes the dress code of a place is learned through trial, error and scares."
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