I’ve never been one to follow fashion. For people who keep up with trends, however, the pandemic seemed sure to deliver at least one can’t-miss fashion prediction: business attire would get a lot more relaxed.
Already last year, trend-watchers were heralding a transition from business casual to “business comfort.” Athleisure brands moved in on dressier basics that have no place in a pilates studio, while retailers of traditional business attire turned to stretchier fabrics and more forgiving cuts. Such convergence seemed inevitable amid “the great resignation.” Surely flexible dress codes would be part of the pitch to lure fleece-coddled employees back to office life?
So it was a little surprising to learn there’s been a run on white dress shirts. It’s not merely a supply chain issue, the Globe and Mail reports. Along with more workers returning to office buildings, the surge in demand is driven by a deluge of long-awaited wedding celebrations, and a general done-ness with sweatpant couture.
I confess I didn’t see this coming. After months of Zoom calls in drawstring flannels, I’ve wondered why anyone would go back to button-pants, never mind clothes they have to iron. However, as any woman who’s wanted to burn her maternity wardrobe can attest, the charms of elastic-panelled midriffs can wear thin over time. After eight trimesters in our comfy clothes, people may be ready for something a little less shapeless.
The strength of “business comfort” may also be its greatest weakness: its versatility tugs at the veil separating work life from home life. For those who telecommuted through the first five waves of the pandemic, the boundaries are already thread worn. The rituals of kicking off heels and the one-sleeve bra extraction are time-honoured signals of workday’s end. Even Mr. Rogers used to hang up his jacket and slip on a cardigan when he walked through the door.
On the other hand, I’m rooting for business comfort to become popular enough to displace the overused and unctuous term “athleisure” (which, regrettably, I have already used twice). Fashion has become something of a cringey-portmanteau generator, from jeggings to groufits (comfy outfits in grey), to the cottagecore esthetic that swept through the early sourdough-baking, garden-tending rounds of lockdown.
Indeed, the fashion industry embraces several words I’d consider fashion crimes themselves. Take the “hobo bag,” made of soft, slouchy material that relaxes into a crescent shape below the handle. It could easily be identified as a crescent bag, or perhaps a croissant bag, after a food it resembles, in the tradition of a baguette bag or pork pie hat. Instead, fashionistas cling to a name echoing the shape of a makeshift garment tied to a stick, as might be carried by a boxcar hopper in a comic strip.
There’s something distinctly distasteful about designer accessories named for a marginalized underclass. In the same vein, surely we could do better than “peasant blouse” to describe charmingly embroidered tops. And though some choose “hippie skirt” to describe the long-hemmed, crinkled garment popular with flower children, the term “gypsy skirt” persists, despite the overt racial slur.
Of course, there is no fashion crime worse than the persistent use of “wifebeater” to describe a men’s cotton undershirt. The alarming term was coined in 1947 after a Detroit man was arrested for beating his wife to death; the graphic headline accompanied his mugshot in a blood-spattered tank.
Fashion terminology should evolve with the distinct trends that inspire it. Then again, if business attire is merging with sports and leisure, maybe we could just go back to “clothes.”