Laura Decker’s new clothes arrived just as she started working remotely. It was a small triumph, and in the thick of a global pandemic, worth celebrating: She had found the perfect pair of work-from-home pants.
Assembling a “WFH outfit” might seem simple: Go to the closet, select a pair of leggings and a sweatshirt, repeat. But Decker, a 32-year-old product manager living in Denver, had more specific requirements. She needed something comfortable that was not “straight comfy clothes,” falling somewhere between the holey pajama bottoms she wore to sleep and binge Netflix and the dark jeans she wore to the office. The other options in her closet weren’t right, either: Her yoga pants are “tight,” her bell-bottom sailor pants “kind of squeeze at the top.”
Decker settled on a $30 pair of black joggers she found on Amazon. “They give me a little more purpose,” says Decker, who usually tops them off with some flannel. “I feel like I’m here to do a job, I’m here to talk to people and get things done.” At 5 p.m., the end of her work day, she immediately puts on pajamas.
That means it’s time for “Tiger King.”
When you’re working from home, seeing only your immediate family or no one at all, “it would be weird,” Decker says, to put on a blazer. At the same time, your old around-the-house-wear might not feel quite Zoom-ready. As many Americans work through their third week of self-quarantine, we’re figuring out what, exactly, we’re all supposed to wear.
This is excellent news for athleisure brands. Many have seized the opportunity to market a whole new work-from-home wardrobe, with Marine Layer and Everlane advertising the “easiest pants ever” and yoga leggings that complete your “WFH uniform.” Madewell is urging customers to “get comfy.” (The marketing email links out to a tie-dye sweatshirt, “relaxed pants,” and an assortment of scented candles.)
But not everyone is interested in fancy leggings.
Pajamas and yoga pants are “equally depressing,” says Andrea Hernández, who lives in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, which has been in lockdown since the middle of March. She has been sharing some of her outfits on Twitter — calling one ensemble, “Not yet work clothes, not yet pajamas.” When Hernández poses in front of her full-length mirror, chronicling her quarantine “OOTD” (outfit of the day), she feels good about herself, she says. Lately, her camera roll has been filled with selfies.
“When my grandchildren ask me, ‘Grandma, what did you do during the pandemic,’ I’ll send them all these pictures,” says Hernández, a 29-year-old recipe developer and entrepreneur. “I’ll tell them that I was really feeling myself, rooting for myself to get through this.”
When you’re working from home, it’s important to physically mark the beginning of the working hours, says Emily Clasper, a 43-year-old librarian at the University of Rochester, who’s been at home since mid-March. She typically dresses up for work — and while her usual skirts and high-heels are “just not going to happen right now,” she says, she likes to wear a little something special.
“It sends a signal to my family, to my husband and kids,” said Clasper. “Like, ‘Look at me, I’m at work right now so, no, I can’t make you a sandwich.’”
Cheryl Davis, 52, who works in commercial real estate outside Denver, has happily been wearing slippers and pajamas during the workday, keeping a cardigan or scarf on retainer for video calls. “I haven’t worn shoes or pants in three weeks,” she says. But she does spend time doing her hair and makeup every morning.
“I just feel more put together when I put mascara on,” Davis says. “Like I’m ready to face the world.”
Even if it’s just half a fancy outfit, it’s worth it, says Clasper. Because she spends at least a few hours on Zoom with her colleagues every day, she is always thinking about how she looks from the shoulders up. On Monday, that meant wearing yoga pants with a blouse.
“I’m still representing myself, and representing the library,” Clasper says. “So I need to look minimally okay.”
Hernández appreciates the feeling of different kinds of clothing. She gets bored with leggings and pajamas — the soft, stretchy fabrics all feel the same on her skin — preferring starchy button-up shirts or scratchy wide-legged Palazzo pants.
“I’m trying to give myself some sensation, wearing a pair of jeans because it feels different, or a flowy blouse,” says Hernández. “I put on a pair of shorts even though I can’t go to the beach.”
For Hernández, it’s important to retain a sense of normalcy while she’s self-quarantined in her apartment. There’s no real reason to wear shoes — she isn’t going anywhere — but she still feels like she should.
“I just need the feeling of wearing shoes,” she says. If she goes months wearing only slippers, she says, when the self-quarantine ends, she says she’ll feel like Tom Hanks’s character on “Castaway,” finally leaving the island. By dressing normally, treating herself to some of her favorite outfits, Hernández is reminding herself that the lockdown isn’t permanent.
At first, she says, this all felt a little silly. “I was asking myself, ‘Why am I even working out? Why am I applying my skin care routine? Who is going to see me?’” But then people started complimenting her WFH outfits on Twitter. She thinks her clothing choices are resonating, she says, because they’re not “some overpriced yoga outfit,” or something from an “Instagram fashion blogger.” She hasn’t bought anything new, she says: Everything comes courtesy of her own closet.
“There’s no Oscar de la Renta or short shorts.”
Thursday is Hernández’s 30th birthday. Her big, “Roaring Twenties” party will now happen over video chat. She knows exactly what she’ll be wearing: an emerald-green gown with a plunging neckline and a feather sequin headdress.
It will be her best quarantine OOTD yet, she says.