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COVID-era dress code moved from pajamas, sweats to 'business comfort': Stitch Fix

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After nearly two years of working from home, many may soon be saying Sayonara to their daytime pajama bottoms as they return to the office.

Even so, workplace dress codes have loosened up since before the pandemic. And after two years of Zoom calls in comfy outfits, the way consumers want to dress has appeared to change.

“We're seeing this shift away from business casual, into business comfort,” Loretta Choy, chief merchant at Stitch Fix (SFIX), told Yahoo Finance on Friday.

And at least one clear consensus has emerged. “No one is willing to forget about the comforts that they've experienced over the last two years,” Choy said.

According to the StitchFix Style Forecast, people now have taste for “comfort,” thanks to pandemic lockdown conventions they aren’t ready to give up. Stitch Fix found that nearly 31% would rather take a 10% pay cut than dress up for work every day – but they still want to balance it with style.

“We're finding that clients want softer hand feel in fabrics. They want relaxed fits. They want comfortable details,” said Choy.

But that “business comfort” trend has also become popular among Wall Street, famous for its traditional, staid culture that disdained relaxed attire.

Over the summer, as workers trickled back into the office, the trend toward casual stood out, as suits morphed into a parade of chinos, sneakers and ballet flats, according to the New York Times.

Like so much else, that changed in the pandemic, Stitch Fix’s women clients have largely shunned corporate attire after more than a year of working from home in loungewear.

“They're telling us that they're wanting to say goodbye to buttons and zippers, hello, to elastic waist pants. They're asking for knit blazers that actually feel like sweatshirts – so comfy [for] every single day, but have a really great polished look,” Choy said.

And 58% of Stitch Fix’s women clients and 53% of men said their looks changed, and expect those changes to continue in the near future, the report said.

“We're hearing that polo shirts have really replaced button down woven shirts and athletic pants, what you see in hike wear and golf pants, that is much more versatile for our customers,” Choy said.

Meanwhile, 67% of consumers plan to replace one-third of their wardrobes, while 33% plan to replace at least half, the company found. Nearly four out of five millennials are likely to refresh their entire wardrobe, mainly due to style preferences changing due to the pandemic, the report noted.

While the U.S. inflation rate reached a 40-year high of 7.5% in January, and no end in sight, some shoppers are already tightening their belts on spending. Choy said Stitch Fix is adapting to their clients “budget preferences" as a way of informing "how we think about products that we bring in, and what types of products that we are presenting to our clients.”

Although the online shopping and styling service was able to top fiscal first-quarter expectations, there’s some cautiousness among observers around the company’s “Fix” model. Sales based on boxes of apparel curated by algorithms and human stylists and sent to customers is a niche concept with limited growth potential, some analysts say.

“We are really focused on the long term. We are a relationship company and what we are doing is adding great value to all of our clients, both in the fix and in our new freestyle model,” Choy added.

Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @daniromerotv

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