Rows of casual and business casual clothing at TJ Maxx. (Colleen Lucey/UConn Journalism)
By Colleen Lucey
April 30, 2023
Robin Monk, a yacht insurance agent, recalls wearing a suit and tie to work every day at Travelers Insurance in Hartford.
“My dry-cleaning bill would be like hundred bucks, every other week,” Monk recalled.
Now, 35 years later, Monk and his coworkers rarely wear suits.
Business casual, which Indeed.com defines as blending traditional office attire with a more relaxed style, is becoming increasingly popular. The men’s suit market decreased in sales by 8 percent between 2015 and 2019 and continues to decline, according to Wall Street Journal. When workers returned to the office after the pandemic, dress codes have become more casual.
Megan Nolan, a contract negotiator at MassMutual, says that less than half of her office wears a suit. Her office dress code changed prior to the pandemic with a company-wide memo that encouraged workers to wear what they thought was appropriate.
“People just interpreted it in different ways,” Nolan said, recalling that some of her female coworkers wore spaghetti-strap tops and flip flops during the summer.
For women, suits are seen less in offices than they used to be but are now worn as trendy streetwear. Oversized blazers are one of the most recent trends fueled by social media and celebrity sightings, according to Glamour Magazine.
The oversized blazer look can be part of a casual ensemble. Dana Mortada, the founder of Dālthe Label, a new clothing line launched in 2022, told Harper’s Bazaar that her blazers can be paired with shorts, a T‑shirt, or a summer dress.
Beth Settje, an associate director at UConn Center for Career Development, advises students to wear clothes that are professional and fit well. Settje still suggests the “dress for the job you want” saying. However, as offices differ in dress codes, this creates uncertainty for students interviewing with multiple companies.
“Students in general have expressed concerns about dressing too casually for a career-related event versus being overdressed,” Settje said.
Younger generations have created a push for more comfortable wear in the office. The largest generation in the workforce is millennials, as one in three employees is born after 1981, according to the Pew Research Center. Millennials are moving toward a more modern workplace and breaking away from the traditional office norms from the late 20th century.
As she shopped recently at TJ Maxx, Pat Miller, a retired librarian at the University of Connecticut, recalled advising millennial college students about how to dress in the workplace. She pointed to the junior section, where they were crop tops and short skirts.
“When you work with the public, you just can’t dress like that,” Miller said.
Throughout her career, Miller never wore jeans to work because they were too casual for her liking. Now, jeans are being designed in a way to fit the “business casual” style.
A trendy clothing store, Express, started selling women’s business casual jeans. The store suggests that if wearing jeans to work, choose a slim-fit and dark wash, according to their website. They also say that wearing a blouse and accessories can dress up jeans at work.
Other companies such as State and Liberty and Bonobos have created more comfortable dress pants for men. State and Liberty’s Athletic Fit dress pant style is designed with four-way stretch for comfort and durability. The mixture of nylon, cotton and Spandex material is low maintenance and wrinkle-resistant, according to the State and Liberty website.
The online site, Bonobos sells a similar dress pant called the Stretch Weekday Warrior. The site details recommend not dry cleaning the pants because it will harm its durability.
Meg Christoforo, 22, struggles to age-appropriate outfits for her assistant event coordinator job at Southern Connecticut State University.
“I either look way too professional and overdo it. Or I look too underdressed and casual. There’s no in-between,” Christoforo said.
While many retail stores have closed in recent years as online shopping surges, suit stores have taken a particularly hard hit. In August 2020, the owner of the company, Tailored Brands, which oversees Men’s Wearhouse and JoS.A. Bank, filed for bankruptcy, according to a New York Times article.
The company said it planned to eliminate 20 percent of corporate jobs and close 500 stores nationwide, due to the lack of sales during the pandemic, the article added.
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted in-store sales in major retailers after many people spent months working more casually from home.
Some employees discovered they were more productive that way. A poll found that 80% of workers performed better in comfortable wear, according to a 2022 Fast Company article. The relaxed dress code may also create a better work environment: 76 percent of employees said casual wear creates better connections between colleagues, the article added.
Some offices have implemented a “Dress for the Day” policy, which allows employees to choose their attire based on their obligations for that day, such as in-office meetings or presentations. The UConn Center of Career Development implemented this policy before the pandemic and allows their employees to have more flexibility with their outfits.
“We want to dress as professionally as possible, while also being comfortable and approachable,” Settje said.