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Clothes for the reopening: Brands like Athleta, Target, Wilson make a big bet that all-day workout wear is here to stay

Lauren Zumbach, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Fashion Daily News

CHICAGO — People are going back out in public, but before they leave home they’re weighing wardrobe questions that were largely irrelevant last year — from whether skinny jeans are still in to what’s OK to wear to work now that co-workers will see below a Zoom shirt.

While some look forward to again having occasions to get dressed up, the apparel industry is betting consumers won’t entirely give up the jogger pants, sweatshirts and other comfortable pieces that got them through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chicago-based Wilson Sporting Goods, better known for sports equipment, recently introduced a sportswear line and plans to open its first stores later this year. Meanwhile, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Kohl’s announced new private-label apparel brands in March: VRST, a men’s line at Dick’s Sporting Goods, and FLX, for both men and women, at Kohl’s.

“We expect that desire to be comfortable … to continue for the foreseeable future,” said Diana Smith, Mintel’s associate director for the U.S. retail and apparel industries. “It’s not a trend, it’s more of a lifestyle.”

After a year of spending more time than usual in yoga pants, Jen Ohrn, 46, of Chicago’s Irving Park neighborhood, said she never wants to put her feet in a pair of heels again.

“I don’t want to go to places that are fancy anymore,” said Ohrn, shopping for an upcoming vacation to Florida at Old Navy in the Goose Island neighborhood on Wednesday.

 

Consumers were shifting to more casual styles before the pandemic hit, and the popularity of clothing designed to go from workouts to hangouts hasn’t faded since it boomed in the mid-2010s, Smith said.

Whether those casual looks are workplace-ready depends on the company and the employee’s role.

Employers could face more pressure to loosen apparel expectations after workers got used to dressing as they pleased at home, said Jeff Galak, associate professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. Some won’t relax standards, but others could use looser dress codes to compete for talent by offering flexibility, he said.

Several of the women Chicago-based Watson Style Group advises on workplace looks say their companies are relaxing dress codes, said stylist Veronica Lenz.

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