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Canadians don’t want to spend on suits, dress attire at work


The major reason employees want to continue working remotely is flexibility and the ability to improve their work-life balance. (stnazkul/Adobe Stock)
By Salmaan Farooqui

Before the pandemic, Rachelle Waterman used to head to the shopping mall before every big work event or weekend outing.

“My wardrobe changed almost every day and I kind of dressed more (based on) my mood,” said Rachelle Waterman, who lives in Hamilton and recently started a remote job as a copywriter. “So I had closets full of clothes, which wasn’t very practical.

“Now that I don’t have as many in-person activities, I’m more looking at brands that suit more of an everyday purpose, rather than a one-time wear sort of feel.”

Waterman said saving money on clothes was a big consideration when she began seeking a job where she could work remotely. She she hasn’t worked in an office since having her three-year-old daughter, and doesn’t want to spend money for the new clothes she would need.

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Now that she spends less every month on new clothes, Waterman said she has been able to divert more money to a long-term savings account for her child, which could go towards her future education or a rainy day fund.

Waterman isn’t the only person to change their attitudes to clothing and work.

A survey commissioned by the co-working space company IWG found that 40 per cent of people believe the days of formal attire in the office are over, and 59 per cent think it’ll be acceptable to dress less formally in the office when they return.

Sixty-one per cent of Canadians also reported that they valued the savings related to more casual and versatile work clothes.

The survey found the trend of wanting to dress casually is in line with the rising desire to work remotely or in a hybrid model.

“The days of the suit are really over,” said Wayne Berger, CEO of the Americas for IWG.

He said there had already been an “informalization” trend in workplace norms and dress codes in the years prior to the pandemic, and who said companies had already been shifting to business casual attire, rather than more formal wear.

“But the pandemic has greatly accelerated this notion around dress codes and the workplace.”

Sales in the clothing and clothing accessories category declined 11.2 per cent in May, Statistics Canada reported last month, though the drop came as rising COVID-19 cases forced stores to shut for part of the month in many areas of the country. Within the subsector, clothing stores saw an 11.6 per cent decrease in sales, falling to their lowest level since May 2020.

Still, Retail Council of Canada spokeswoman Michelle Wasylyshen said the industry is hopeful things will rebound as offices reopen and people return to work.

Berger said he expects people’s decisions around what they wear on any given day will be more “purpose-driven,” and that people will only dress up more formally if they have an important meeting or work event that day. With the advent of remote work, he said people may also opt to only dress traditionally on the days they go into the office.

With many companies already changing their ideas around office attire, Berger said employers that don’t adapt their culture will find it harder to attract workers.

“It’s going to be a real renaissance,” said Berger.

“Companies that aren’t changing aren’t only going to struggle to get talent, but they’ll struggle to retain it.”

These days, Waterman says her wardrobe is based on neutral colours and comfortable clothes. She doesn’t go as far as wearing sweatpants, but her daily outfit is also more comfortable than a fancier dress like she’d previously wear on some days.

“It lets my work do the talking, which is what I’d rather be known for anyway.”