Taking the suit from c-Suite: Formal wear sales in steep decline as COVID accelerates business casual trend

RENO, Nev. — In the early 2000s, a few years after springing out of Silicon Valley, tech startup Google wrote a “10 things we know to be true” manifesto.

One of the company’s core principles argued, “You can be serious without a suit.”

That statement may never ring truer.

Over the past 20 years, office dress codes have been getting more and more relaxed, spurred in part by the influx of millennials in the workforce and companies — especially in the tech industry — embracing the concept of modern workplace culture.

Gone are casual Fridays; in are casual workweeks.

“In the early Silicon Valley days, tech culture was created as counterculture against the Wall Street suits,” Daniel Price, CEO of Reno-based IoT company Ioterra, said in a video interview with the NNBW. “And that sort of promulgated throughout the last couple decades. I think western tech culture kind of defined itself as, ‘you don’t have to dress up and be uncomfortable at work.’”

Flash forward to 2020, and the coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated the casualness of business wear.

After the COVID crisis shut down office spaces across the country — some temporarily, others for good — it created a boom of business being done from the comfort of one’s couch, kitchen or home office.

As a result, the demand for dress clothes is hanging by a thread.

“Doing Zoom calls with people in their home office and their bedrooms, I think it’s changed the image of what a business meeting should look like,” Price, wearing a t-shirt and hoodie, said from his home office. “It’s no longer two people with two brief cases shaking hands over an oak table, it’s more like this.”

Daniel Price, CEO of Ioterra, discusses the accelerated trend of “business casual” during a Zoom interview from his home office.

And retailers that sell dress clothes are feeling the impacts of the WFH shift.

Men’s Warehouse, Jos. A. Bank and Ann Taylor, among several others, are retailers whose parent companies have entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in recent months. Tailored Brands, owner of Men’s Warehouse and Jos A. Bank, plans to close up to 500 locations, according to a recent USA Today report.

In all, revenue for the men’s clothing stores industry is projected to dip 13% in 2020, reports research company IBISWorld, with no signs of a bounce-back in sight.

In other words, c-suites no longer have to wear suits.

“I just don’t think you need them,” said Adam Kiefer, CEO of Talage, a Reno-based fintech company. “And when you do need them, they’re so few and far between. Twenty years ago, you had to wear a suit and tie five days a week — you needed a lot of suits. Now, you can buy one or two and you’re good.

“I think the 9-to-5 suit-and-tie thing may be dead forever.”

Kiefer said he remembers working at companies that would dangle the carrot of a casual Friday in an effort to motivate staff to perform well. At Talage, Kiefer said the prospect of a casual Friday is presented to staff in jest.

“We’ll make little jokes internally, ‘hey, if we do something, we can all wear jeans on Friday,’” Kiefer said. “It’s a holdover from the bigger companies we all used to work for where that was a thing. Where it was like, ‘hey, if we do a good job this quarter, we can all wear jeans on Fridays.’”

Julie Arsenault is co-founder of Reno-based Panty Drop, the mission of which is to inspire women to close the gender leadership gap in America, considering five out of six business executives are men.

These days, most people are donning attire even less casual than jeans when working from home — at least below the waist, said Julie Arsenault, co-founder of Reno-based Panty Drop, a subscription underwear box for women.

“There’s a huge sweatpants trend that’s happening right now,” Arsenault said with a laugh. “What we’ve heard from our customers is they might be wearing the same pair of sweatpants every day, but they’re definitely changing their underwear every day.

“I’m happy to hear that from a general wellness perspective, and from a business perspective.”

Kevin Jones, chief operating officer at Reno-based KPS3, said the increased casualization of work attire is a great thing for business.

“I believe that people are starting to realize that you can be a great employee and excellent at your job regardless of what you wear,” Jones said in an email to the NNBW. “People do their best work in general when they’re comfortable and vulnerable with teammates.

“The pandemic has accelerated this because other companies are now realizing that there are major benefits to enabling and empowering your people as they try to navigate work and home balance.”

Despite being all for business casual, Price pointed out that some people might be hardwired to get dressed up as part of their morning routine, even if their office is a stone’s throw from their bed.

“There’s something to be said for routines and rituals,” Price said. “I get up and I have my morning coffee and I prep for the day and that helps get me in the zone. So, if putting on work attire helps people get into that work mindset … that might be something that’s getting lost as people are working in their home.”


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