October 3, 2022

Gen Z is Wearing ‘Pajamas’ to Work and No One Cares

a young lady in a jean jacket against a bright yellow background

We here at Going Concern have always worked remotely, cranking out our hard-hitting investigative journalism from the nearest coffee shop or cat hair-covered couch in our nicest T-shirts since 2009.

yes, “journalism”

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Bramwell and I applied our expertise (for once) and wrote a remote work guide for those of you suddenly thrust into the pantsless WFH life (which was pretty much all of you knowing how remote-averse accounting firms had been up until March 2020). One of the things we suggested was NOT working in your pajamas, tempting as it may be. As you’ve no doubt learned from your 2.5 years of WFH experience by now, a separation of work and home is critical when you work from home and wearing the same thing to “the office” as you do to bed makes it harder to define that separation thus making it more difficult to turn off when the day is done.

Alas, shit happens. Pounds were packed on. Stress surged. At some point people sort of threw up their hands and said who cares, I’m wearing sweats 23 hours a day, screw it. I know this is true because I observed the already casual Richmond populace at my local Kroger getting grungier and grungier as the weeks wore on. We’re not like Dallas, people don’t put on their face before they run to 7-11; a couple months into the pandemic people in my city weren’t even putting on bras or shoes with laces much less mascara. Hey who am I to judge, I wear $3 Hanes undershirts as tops.

Now that offices are opening up and the generation that graduated into the hellscape of the pandemic is experiencing the joy of cubicles and hoteling for perhaps the first time in their careers, it seems Gen Z is living their best business casual life in loungewear. And no one is getting upset about it. At least according to this PureWow piece:

According to AfterPay’s Bi-Annual Trend Report [PDF], Gen Z, who largely entered the workforce remotely, are slowly but surely making their way into the office IRL, and they’re bringing with them the comfortable clothing they got accustomed to while working from home. Though this bunch has never been keen on following any of the formalities millennials and Gen X have stuck with—for instance, their whole take on email sign offs—they’re definitely waving goodbye to office looks from J. Crew or Ann Taylor that millennials embraced and going for even more casual office garb like jeans and hoodie a la Mark-Zuckerberg-chic. And business casual, who? When it comes to Gen X and boomer pencil skirts, blazers and silk blouse combos, Gen Z is like, “I don’t know her.” Instead, they’re showing up in a relaxed fit of loungewear with the oversized shapes of streetwear. In fact, AfterPay reports that sales for plissé sets—oversized loungewear sets made with lightweight, flowy plissé fabric—have already climbed by 14 percent, compared to last year, and we can expect them to continue as more and more of these youngins enter the workforce.

I had to Google plissé sets because old.

Ah so that’s what a plissé set is, TIL

The most interesting part of this article — besides learning a new clothing term that will surely have no relevance in my life going forward — is that apparently Zoomers’ Millennial coworkers are good with this whole comfy office attire thing. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been bullied relentlessly since the moment we joined the workforce at the turn of the millennium so we know how it feels to be nitpicked or maybe we just learned from our Gen X predecessors to not care about…anything, regardless of reason no one is getting worked up about this extra casual business casual trend inspired by cozy lockdown uniforms:

Millennials ushered in smart casual dressing when they entered the workforce—combining formal business wear (button-downs, blouses) with casual pieces (jeans, chinos). So it’s not a huge surprise that they are welcoming the change with open arms. “I used to wear the Sloan Slim Fit pants from Banana Republic every day before the pandemic,” said Angelica Hama, a 32-year-old auditor from New York City. “We have a hybrid work model at my job, and I’m almost exclusively in paper bag waist everything for the three days I have to be in the office.” Other millennials, while they were never beholden to stringent work clothes, are totally behind the movement. “We never had a super strict dress code at my job anyway,” says Christina Rivers, a 28-year-old PR manager, also based in NYC. “So as long as your laidback outfit still looks somewhat put together, I can’t knock it.”

Do I have to Google “paper bag waist” too? Nah, forget it.

Man, we’ve come a long way from “don’t let people wear jeans to the office ever, it will just discourage them from meeting with clients.”

This discussion about workplace attire made me remember the Los Angeles accounting firm no one had ever heard of fining people for pushing the “Dress For Your Day” dress code too far in 2019, just months before work from home made sweats not only acceptable but necessary (hello Covid-15 weight gain…).

Gursey Schneider fashion do's and don'ts
Imagine thinking you need to tell your professional accounting staff not to show up at work like this.

When Dress For Your Day started making its way to accounting firms some time in the mid 2010s the rules were simple: no one wants to see your Rihanna underboob tattoo nor your knobby toes. Here’s a list of forbidden fashion one Deloitte office adopted for a Dress For Your Day pilot program in 2016, a blow to yoga-pants-as-everyday-pants fans everywhere:

Shirts/blouses/tops

  • Crop tops
  • Tank tops baring shoulders
  • Halters
  • Strapless tops
  • Spaghetti straps
  • T-shirts with writing or emblems
  • Sweatshirts
  • Bare midriffs

Pants/skirts/dresses

  • Old or ripped jeans
  • Short skirts
  • Shorts
  • Leggings
  • Overalls
  • Cargo pants
  • Knee-length capris
  • Sweatpants and yoga pants

Footwear

  • Athletic or tennis shoes
  • Sport sandals
  • Birkenstock-style sandals
  • Flip-flops or casual sandals
  • Hiking boots

Will Gen Z usher in the era of showing shoulder? Only time will tell.

As always, dress code is dependent on your office, whether or not you have clients prowling your halls, and which industry said clients are in (as in Zuck-type tech bros might laugh you out of the room if you show up in full suit). We don’t expect that to change any time soon. Or ever. I guess if there’s one bright side to the pandemic other than firms finally — if begrudgingly — getting on board with remote work it’s that it accelerated the transition from unnecessarily buttoned-up office fashion to letting educated adult professionals decide for themselves what’s appropriate for office attire. Imagine that!

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