Why pyjamas are not appropriate for the office - but relaxed workwear is
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Why pyjamas are not appropriate for the office – but relaxed workwear is

COVID, cost of living and a shift towards more sustainable fashion have changed the norms around appropriate workwear

By Robyn Willis
Wed, Mar 8, 2023 7:00amGrey Clock 5 min

The past few years have seen a radical shift in what many would consider appropriate workwear. After months working from home, office workers have adapted to a hybrid model defined by ‘anchor days’ and flexible working hours. For International Women’s Day, stylist and sustainable fashion advocate Madeleine Park has partnered with Dress for Success, a not-for-profit organisation designed to empower women to gain financial independence by enabling them to face the job market with confidence. Here, Ms Park addresses the challenges of dressing for the new workplace amid cost of living pressures and hybrid work environments.

What is appropriate office wear in a hybrid workplace? How did COVID change what we wear to work?

Anything that says you’re ready for work (i.e. not your pyjamas!) is appropriate, but COVID certainly softened and eased the rules on what’s acceptable. People want a level of comfort not only in what they wear but how they interact with others and this is interfacing with how things are being designed. So whilst suiting has had a moment in fashion for some time now, it’s a deconstructed and softer version of the traditional suit. The modern suit is often seen in fashion-forward colours and in relaxed and oversized fits, carrying the ideas of comfort, ease and adaptability. There is also a trend towards the high-low. So, mixing high-impact items with low-key staples and comfort pieces. An example of this could be a very fashion-forward pink suit with pleated wide-legged pants and an oversized blazer paired back with sneakers, cotton t-shirt and a cross-body bag but this is subverted into a weekend look. Once this suit is deconstructed, the pants on their own offer a lovely sophisticated silhouette that can be paired back to a more traditional fitted business shirt providing a classic silhouette more appropriate for corporate environments.

How are we shopping for workwear now when more people are working from home at least part of the week?

From a consumer perspective, individuals are requiring more adaptability in their wardrobes as well as trying to understand their wardrobes in more sustainable ways. Their clothes need to be chic while driving more functionality across different environments, and as things get tighter financially, this will continue as individuals seek maximum cost per wear out of their garments. So, those pieces that look smart but are comfortable and can translate across different contexts e.g collared t-shirts, a knit midi skirt or tailored pants in natural fibres such as linen, or silk. Consumers are also shifting towards repurposed pieces and investment pieces so there is more longevity to their wardrobes. 

Sustainable fashion advocate and podcaster, stylist Madeleine Park

Women are now being encouraged to be more assertive in business environments, whether that’s asking for a promotion or getting their point across in meetings. How can you dress for that kind of success?

You only get one chance to make a first impression so it is important to present yourself in a way that is contextually appropriate, resonates with your audience but offers an insight into who you are. While that can feel like a lot of pressure on one outfit, finding that look that makes you feel assertive, is a great way to enter into a confident mindset. Combining that confidence with a sense of self is a very individual thing, but you can fall back on some straightforward styling principles to guide your look. For example, choosing shapes and silhouettes that provide a stronger presence, finding your look in a colour that suits you but in a shade that makes impact and, lastly, accessories – whether it’s the right shoe height, a piece of jewellery that shines a light to who you are or a belt or scarf that adds interest to an otherwise straightforward suit – accessories are a great way to add individuality and lift your look. 

Is it possible for women to look professional and feel comfortable in the workplace?

Absolutely! As there is a shift in the fashion industry to design with purpose, we are seeing more and more styles that are adaptable to various environments. As a result, more traditional workwear pieces are being produced in softer, more free-flowing fabrics and in more relaxed silhouettes. Not only is this a more modern way to conceive of workwear, considering the various hybrid work environments a lot of people are operating in, but generally, this translates to looks that offer style and comfort whilst having multiple purposes.

Does the ‘dress for the job you want, not the one you have’ rule still have relevance?

You can think about using your wardrobe as one of the tools in your kit to give you impact. However, as we see more inclusivity across job roles and changing work environments, the rules around dressing for the job you want have changed. Just take the example of Melanie Perkins, the CEO of Canva and billionaire – she has broken the mould in so many ways, not only with a female-founded start-up but she presents as approachable and relatively casual and is fairly vocal about anti-materialist sentiments. So we are seeing a shift in the expectations of appearance and relying more on a focus of an entrepreneurial spirit. Across the board, that sense of entrepreneurialism is associated with more casual looks that wouldn’t have traditionally been associated with negotiating multi-million dollar deals. 

Are there different rules around work wear for women and men? What are they?

There are definitely still environments that lend themselves to more traditional gender rules for corporate dressing like a suit and tie for men, blouse, skirt and blazer for women, however these protocols are specific to the individual workplace. As concepts of gender become less polarised and we embrace more size inclusivity, the way fashion is constructed, and trends are evolving, we see more styles designed to fit any body shape. The world is changing so whilst this sentiment might not be as overt in more traditional environments, there are definitely signs that what men and women wear to work is not necessarily defined by gender. 

Is it still worthwhile for men to invest in a suit? What about investment clothing for women?

Investing in classic items that stand the test of the time is always worthwhile, whether it be a tailored suit or a classic cut blazer. Made-to-measure pieces tend not to be transient pieces in your wardrobe, they feel better to wear, and they stand the test of time. Interestingly, there has been a surge in women’s bespoke suiting services and I think this is because women are seeking out that same tailored service that traditionally has been the placeholder for men. Corporate environments are shifting in terms of formality around workwear but suiting shapes are also softening and becoming more relaxed to adapt to the changing work trends. 

If you had to name one failsafe work wear outfit for women, what would it look like?

As a general rule, something that is a classic style, well constructed and made from natural fibres is always going to be a winner in terms of feeling good and carrying you through your day. As we are all different body shapes, express ourselves differently and have different priorities, I can only speak to my one failsafe look, which would be a waisted midi dress in cotton or silk. The conservative but fashionable length carries me into various contexts and the natural fibres are breathable and comfortable. By changing shoes and adding/taking off an unstructured blazer, I can easily get myself from school drop-off to work meetings (on or offline) to, if I’m lucky, a date night with my partner!



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Why Prices of the World’s Most Expensive Handbags Keep Rising

Designers are charging more for their most recognisable bags to maintain the appearance of exclusivity as the industry balloons

By CAROL RYAN
Tue, Mar 5, 2024 3 min

The price of a basic Hermès Birkin handbag has jumped $1,000. This first-world problem for fashionistas is a sign that luxury brands are playing harder to get with their most sought-after products.

Hermès recently raised the cost of a basic Birkin 25-centimeter handbag in its U.S. stores by 10% to $11,400 before sales tax, according to data from luxury handbag forum PurseBop. Rarer Birkins made with exotic skins such as crocodile have jumped more than 20%. The Paris brand says it only increases prices to offset higher manufacturing costs, but this year’s increase is its largest in at least a decade.

The brand may feel under pressure to defend its reputation as the maker of the world’s most expensive handbags. The “Birkin premium”—the price difference between the Hermès bag and its closest competitor , the Chanel Classic Flap in medium—shrank from 70% in 2019 to 2% last year, according to PurseBop founder Monika Arora. Privately owned Chanel has jacked up the price of its most popular handbag by 75% since before the pandemic.

Eye-watering price increases on luxury brands’ benchmark products are a wider trend. Prada ’s Galleria bag will set shoppers back a cool $4,600—85% more than in 2019, according to the Wayback Machine internet archive. Christian Dior ’s Lady Dior bag and the Louis Vuitton Neverfull are both 45% more expensive, PurseBop data show.

With the U.S. consumer-price index up a fifth since 2019, luxury brands do need to offset higher wage and materials costs. But the inflation-beating increases are also a way to manage the challenge presented by their own success: how to maintain an aura of exclusivity at the same time as strong sales.

Luxury brands have grown enormously in recent years, helped by the Covid-19 lockdowns, when consumers had fewer outlets for spending. LVMH ’s fashion and leather goods division alone has almost doubled in size since 2019, with €42.2 billion in sales last year, equivalent to $45.8 billion at current exchange rates. Gucci, Chanel and Hermès all make more than $10 billion in sales a year. One way to avoid overexposure is to sell fewer items at much higher prices.

Many aspirational shoppers can no longer afford the handbags, but luxury brands can’t risk alienating them altogether. This may explain why labels such as Hermès and Prada have launched makeup lines and Gucci’s owner Kering is pushing deeper into eyewear. These cheaper categories can be a kind of consolation prize. They can also be sold in the tens of millions without saturating the market.

“Cosmetics are invisible—unless you catch someone applying lipstick and see the logo, you can’t tell the brand,” says Luca Solca, luxury analyst at Bernstein.

Most of the luxury industry’s growth in 2024 will come from price increases. Sales are expected to rise by 7% this year, according to Bernstein estimates, even as brands only sell 1% to 2% more stuff.

Limiting volume growth this way only works if a brand is so popular that shoppers won’t balk at climbing prices and defect to another label. Some companies may have pushed prices beyond what consumers think they are worth. Sales of Prada’s handbags rose a meagre 1% in its last quarter and the group’s cheaper sister label Miu Miu is growing faster.

Ramping up prices can invite unflattering comparisons. At more than $2,000, Burberry ’s small Lola bag is around 40% more expensive today than it was a few years ago. Luxury shoppers may decide that tried and tested styles such as Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull bag, which is now a little cheaper than the Burberry bag, are a better buy—especially as Louis Vuitton bags hold their value better in the resale market.

Aggressive price increases can also drive shoppers to secondhand websites. If a barely used Prada Galleria bag in excellent condition can be picked up for $1,500 on luxury resale website The Real Real, it is less appealing to pay three times that amount for the bag brand new.

The strategy won’t help everyone, but for the best luxury brands, stretching the price spectrum can keep the risks of growth in check.

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