Tanzina Vega: Hey, everybody. You're back with The Takeaway. I'm Tanzina Vega. What are you wearing right now? If you're lucky enough to be working from home during the pandemic, it's probably something comfortable, maybe with an elastic waistband, or maybe you're one of the many Americans wearing a dress shirt and pajama bottoms presume calls. From sweatpants to slippers, the pandemic has changed a lot about the way we dress.
I have a pile of leggings and track pants in my closet that I cycled through, and while I have amassed a small collection of furry warm slippers, I often host the show barefoot from a coat closet. I also have a growing collection of fashionable masks, which means I rarely wear lipstick anymore. Amanda Mull is with me from The Atlantic. Amanda, it's not just me, right?
Amanda Mull: No, it's not just you. I am currently waiting for a snow storm outside of my window in a caftan that is technically a beach coverup.
Tanzina: I'll hold over from the summer of caftans and house dresses, I presume.
Amanda: It is, it is. We have all sort of- had our sense of what is appropriate and when, knocked sideways in the past year in a lot of ways, but also in how we present ourselves.
Tanzina: So, let's talk about that. Because, what do we know about how different types of clothing sales have changed? My sense, is just from my own experience, that denim sales and hard pants, as we call them, are not selling right now. Am I right?
Amanda: Yes. The apparel market in general is having a hard time and has been having a hard time all year because a lot of the things that we buy clothes for are created situations in which we feel that we need a particular outfit to telegraph a particular thing, closer social language. We have a lot of situations in which we need very specific options. The pandemic has foreclosed on many of those options and many of those occasions. Most people now live in a much narrower set of circumstances.
Even if you're going to work, a lot of your social activities are going to be different in your off-hours. It's really narrowed what people can find reasons to wear, and that means that a lot of office-type clothes, a lot of formal clothes, things like that, sales of those are way down. Sales of things you wear in your house, way up. There was one, especially early in the pandemic, I think it was Walmart, who said that sales of pants had bottomed out for them, but shirts were still selling well because that's what you can see on a Zoom call.
Tanzina: That's what I was going to say. Now we heard from some callers, and I know that for women and men there may be some differences here, but our women and men generally, all of us sliding into more comfortable gear as we work from home, those of us who are lucky enough to work from home.
Amanda: Yes. I think that this is a pretty widespread thing. It'll differ a little bit depending on industries, and some industries have different gendered expectations for how people will dress when you can see them. It wouldn't surprise me if law, in banking and things like that were a little bit different than other types of office work, because they're more formal in regular times.
I think clothing is something that we wear to signal to others that we understand the social situations that we're in and the expectations that come with them. Once those situations change, I think it gives everybody psychological permission to explore their options a little bit. We've been in this for so long at this point that I think everybody has started doing that.
Tanzina: I think what's interesting here is the psychological shift, the way you're talking about what clothes do for us psychologically. I wonder if-- For myself, I do two changes of clothing a day, one to come into "my office," i.e. my closet, because it sets the tone. It says I'm going to work right now, and then one after work where I can run around with the baby and run errands, if I need to.
Are there people who need that psychological shift to say, "I'm putting on foundational garments, and even if it's comfortable clothing, it's still professional enough to be able to do my job and then shift," or many people just kind of stay in their sweats all day. The day's blurred and you're not sure what you've worn for the past week.
Amanda: There are lots of examples of people doing both of these things. For some people the-- We live in built environments, the built environments of our homes or offices, things like that. Our clothing and our wardrobes are also sort of a built environment that we create for ourselves in order to signal to others, but also to reassure and shore up our understanding of ourselves. For some people, it helps them mark time to change clothes in the morning into their work sweats, and then change again in the evening into their nighttime sweats or into the outfit that they wear when they cook dinner or something like that.
I think that a lot of people use clothing and use changes of clothing in that way, and then there are people in- I am one of these people, because I have worked from home on and off for years, who just- whatever is around, whatever is comfortable, I'm willing to put that on and wear it until it seems like I should probably change my clothes for my own sanity.
Tanzina: Sanity is critical these days in any form that it comes. Amanda, there's some changes, I'm wondering if they'll stick. We're laughing a little bit about the sweat pants and track pants and leggings. I wonder things like women who have said, "I'm not wearing a bra anymore," or "I'm not wearing a bra that has underwire," or women in particular, maybe some men who have said, "I'm going to stop dying my hair. I'm going to just stop fighting this and let it be natural." Are there going to be people who decide that that's the way they move forward, or are we going to go back to that type of pressure, potentially, when we're back in the office with each other?
Amanda: I think that this is a very individual thing because it depends on what people had been already contemplating before all of this happened and what their options are afterward. People who work in industries with really stringent dress codes, probably can't change as much as somebody like me who works in media. How does a writer dress anyway? Nobody knows.
I think the biggest changes that we're going to see are when particular circumstances of the pandemic collide with a trend that was already picking up steam. For the past 10 years underwire bras have been out of style. A lot more laundry companies have started making a good, supportive bras that are a little bit more comfortable, that aren't necessarily meant to push off or mold you as much as a hard-cup underwire bra is. Those had already been becoming more popular and more available to people.
I think that when you get a trends like that colliding with these circumstances in which a lot of women who might've still been wearing underwires every day, have permission to stop doing that. I think that is where you get the greatest uptake and the greatest opportunity for our real shift in how people view what they wear every day.
Tanzina: How are people adapting their clothes and their makeup for being on camera all the time versus being in person. There are days when I look at my Zoom appearances and think, "My God," and that was after I put on a full face of makeup.
Amanda: I talked to a guy who owns a video equipment store, for a story earlier this year, who said something to me that sort of made all of this click, because what cameras sensors pick up and what our eyes pick up are two totally different things. They're related, but they're not the same. You can look in the mirror and think, "I look great. I would be confident going into a meeting like this," and then look at yourself on Zoom and go, "What is going on?"
Tanzina: Which is me pretty much every Zoom. Yes.
Amanda: I think that people are probably becoming more cognizant of what kinds of colors flatter them. If they're warm-toned or cool-toned? I'm a lot more cognizant of what my hair is doing. I have gotten a little bit better with the hairspray since this started. I think that being forced to stare at ourselves is brutal. It makes you evaluate your makeup and your hair and your clothing in a really different way. I will not go on a Zoom call without doing my eyebrows now because I look a little bit dead if I don't do my eyebrows. [laughs] Yes. These are things that if you aren't in a situation where you have to stare at your face all day, you just don't know about yourself.
Tanzina: I find that that's really interesting. A couple of years ago I was asked by Courts Magazine, or the website, to make predictions about what the world would be like in 2050. One of the things they asked was, "What are people going to be wearing?" I predicted a rise in the popularity of AF leisure clothing. Who knew, who knew that I was so right. This was really before the pandemic, when I noticed that a lot of people, myself included today, I'm wearing Adidas track pants, and I'm not going running, I think that's also become a staple of American fashion, if you will.
I wonder if you see the industry headed more in that way. You talked a little bit about this with underwire bras. Is our clothing going to become more athleisury, I suppose.
Amanda: I think so. I think a lot of it will. What you've got with athleisure is an interesting intersection of fabric technology and cultural things that exist outside of clothing, intersecting. Because a lot of the leggings and things like that, especially that we have now, are fabrics that just didn't exist a generation ago, and they've gotten a lot better in the past 10 years. You can create these types of garments that mold the body, but are still comfortable to wear and that have much cooler designs, are much better at picking up color than anything that our parents had growing up. It's just, these things just simply didn't exist, so now that they exist, people are figuring out how to use them, how to wear them, what they're good for.
They were developed for athletic stuff, but there's a long history in the United States going back to the turn of the century of things that are used in athletic wear, then becoming things that are worn to the office, because things that are used in athletic clothing are comfortable, they're breathable, you can move around in them easily.
There's a real social cachet in being associated with exercise and with fitness and with maintaining your body that way. You've got the social norms of exercise being good and exercise being something that you want to demonstrate that you understand and do, combined with these new fabrics and these new ways of making clothes, and I think that we're only at the beginning of that.
Tanzina: I'm wondering if there's going to be, after the pandemic, if they're going to be one of two responses, one where folks say, even people who may have worked in industries, like you cited, in law and perhaps in banking, where things are a lot more conservative, maybe folks saying, "You know what? I'm going to take it down a notch. Casual Friday might be every day, right? Folks who have to go into the office and just we'll see a resurgence or a rise in casual workwear, Or I'm wondering if the opposite is going to happen where people are so tired of wearing leggings and sweatpants and not being able to express themselves as much as they want through fashion, that we'll see more fashion coming to the fore when people are able to buy things and show them off in public. What do you think?
Amanda: I think that there will probably be instances of both of those things, but structurally, I think it's hard to go back once you've gotten people used to a certain level of comfort. I think that there'll definitely be a lot of people who want to go out and wear a party dress, and want to go out and wear a great pair of heels, or buy a fantastic suit and just remind themselves that there's stuff beyond their own home.
I think that that happens on an individual level, but structurally, when you look at how offices enforce how people are supposed to look in the office or expected to look on days that are not casual Friday, we were already in a long arc of casualization in American professional dress, that has been going on for over a 100 years. I think that we were already to the point where it was fine to wear leggings and things like that, in a lot of American offices, especially in offices that employ a lot of people in their 20s and 30s, in a lot of tech stuff, and tech offices tend to be very influential in how other types of businesses eventually adopt their practices in their offices.
I think that we were-- This was another thing like underwire bras, where this was already headed in that direction anyway, and the pandemic just provided sort of an explosive moment for it to get really broad uptake that might have taken longer and normal times. I think that, probably, everybody's going to casualize a little bit because of this, at least at work.
Tanzina: Long live leggings. Amanda, one thing I miss is wearing lipstick, maybe not a whole face of makeup, but definitely lipstick, because of my masks. Are you hearing that from folks who wear lipstick?
Amanda: There's a lot of little special things that people do for themselves, that people think are fun. I think that lipstick is a fun thing that people do, that they like doing. I think that some of these dressier things are things that people will excitedly return to when we all can take our masks off.
Tanzina: Let's hope so. Amanda Mull is a staff writer at The Atlantic. Amanda, thanks so much for being with us.
Amanda: Thank you for having me.
Tanzina: From track suits to sweatpants to work pajamas, everything is in play now, and you told us about it.
Emilia: Hi, Tanzina. My name is Emilia [unintelligible 00:14:35]. I'm an Australian. I live in New York and I love listening to WNYC. At the moment, my lockdown fashion is about suits or sweats. I have three pair of matching sweats. I have a black pair with a hoodie, I have a leopard print gray pair, and then I also have a beautiful mustard yellow. I love your show. Bye.
Margarita Zamora-Saunders: Hi, this is Margarita Zamora-Saunders calling from Oakdale, California. I have to say that my sense of fashion has gone out the window since the pandemic started. Before the pandemic, I would dress up, wear high heel shoes, blacks or nice dress to work, when I would go into the office. Now, since I'm working remotely, I pretty much either wear leggings, joggers or even cute side jammy bottom pants on, from the waist down and on top I dress up usually with a decent-looking blouse, but I definitely put a little bit of makeup on and do my hair. Anyway, that's my pandemic fashion for you.
Joel: Hi, this is Joel from East Bay, Northern California, just outside of San Francisco. My clothing attire has definitely changed since I started working from home, the middle of March. My wardrobe is reverted back to that of a 12-year-old boy, shorts, t-shirt and a hooded sweatshirt every day.
Tanzina: We've got one more piece from Allie Pinel who works with us here at WNYC. She sent us one of those voice memos.
Allie Pinel: Hey, this is Allie, calling in from Brooklyn. My COVID style has changed. I used to be a dress wearer, because it just forced me to pick one thing and then my outfit was set. Since COVID hit, I've been investing in cozy, but nicer sweaters, and have been wearing pretty much the same two pairs of tracksuits over and over. They're light, they enable me to cross my legs and change my sitting position. I don't know if I will keep wearing this back in the real world, but I've definitely invested more in my upper body look.
Tanzina: Very nice, Allie. Remember, send us the voice memo like that, record it right on your phone, and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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