The pandemic certainly changed the apparel industry. Remote workers put aside business casual for comfy clothes, because they could. Closets were emptied and overhauled. Growing health and fitness trends boosted the popularity of Lululemon and athleisure wear. 

Now that Americans are reemerging back into public life, including returning to the workplace, the question for many is “what to wear”? Is demand evolving away from the ‘comfort-first’ trends seen during the height of the pandemic? CivicScience has the insights:

1. Loungewear, leisurewear, and athleisure all saw a surge in popularity over the pandemic.

Today, 41% of U.S. adults (excluding those unaware) say they purchased apparel such as sportswear, sweats, hoodies, tees, yoga clothes, and other types of loungewear since 2020.

Twenty-five percent of respondents say they like leisurewear and are wearing it more often since the start of the pandemic.

2. However, when it comes to buying new clothes, casual wear is top of mind.

Think jeans, button-downs, khakis, sundresses, cardigans – as people return to public life, recent survey results show that more than one-third of adults are most interested in purchasing ‘casual attire’ that can be worn day-to-day. Another third is relatively evenly split among activewear, business casual, and leisurewear / loungewear. Also to note, 31% of people cited “none of the these,” which could indicate they are not in the market for clothes at the moment.

3. Clothing preference varies by work status.

Remote workers and on-site workers are nearly equally as likely to shop for casual and business casual attire. However, leisurewear is still popular among remote workers, who are almost twice as likely as on-site workers to buy leisurewear / loungewear and activewear.

Where are people most likely to shop for work clothes today? The survey found that big-box stores like Target are the leading destination for work attire, followed by department stores. More than 2-in-5 Americans will head to one of these stores (or shop online) for work-appropriate clothing (although what constitutes “work-appropriate” today is open to interpretation, as the above results suggest).

4. What about jeans?

There was a time during lockdowns when “I’ll never wear jeans again” could be frequently heard. Today, 56% of people say they regularly wear jeans each week, and 31% wear them every day or nearly every day.

However, jeans aren’t nearly as popular among younger audiences these days. Just 16% of Gen Z adults wear jeans daily, compared to 39% of Baby Boomers.

Remote workers (who index younger) are also half as likely to wear jeans every day compared to their on-site counterparts. This crowd is more likely to wear jeans a few times a month or year than they are daily or weekly.

5. Gender neutral clothing sees growing interest.

Gender neutral and gender inclusive clothes have also emerged in recent years as categories offered by mainstream retailers, such as Nordstrom and Target. Today, 18% of U.S. adults say they are at least somewhat interested in purchasing gender neutral clothing.

Among those aware, non-binary adults are the most interested in the category followed by nearly 20% of adult women.

How important are consumers’ clothing choices today?

It turns out that the majority of people place the same level of importance on the clothes they wear now as they did before the start of the pandemic. However, 20% of people say clothes are less important to them now, while 11% say they are more important. 

Inflation and rising prices could certainly play a role in changing perceptions on clothing and style. Yet, the shifting workplace may also be key. Surprisingly, remote workers are three times more likely than on-site workers to say that clothes are more important to them today. They are also almost twice as likely to say they are not as important. 

People who are working away from home today have largely retained the same feelings about clothing. Whereas remote workers continue to remain more upended by pandemic-related changes.