The pandemic is shrinking the market for officewear
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A couple of more retailers declared bankruptcy over the weekend: Tailored Brands, which owns Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank, and the department store chain Lord & Taylor.
They join a list of COVID-era retail bankruptcies that already included Neiman Marcus, J.Crew, Brooks Brothers and the parent company of Ann Taylor and Loft.
These companies had problems before the virus. But now, they’re up against the way the virus is changing how we dress. Suits? Office-appropriate dresses? Not a lot of need for those right now.
Amanda Rich is starting to feel bad for her shoes.
“I’m actually sitting looking at them, and I’m seeing like my leopard print ballet flats and this really cute pair of sandals that I bought last year,” she said. “I haven’t really worn them.”
She lives about 30 miles east of Seattle and works in communications.
“I think they’re thinking, you know, because they don’t know, right?… Did we do something wrong?” Rich said.
She used to wear business attire — a blazer or a dress with fancy shoes — to the office every day.
“I have not put on a dress since March,” she said.
There are many lonely dresses and blazers and suits hanging expectantly in closets across America right now. And a lot of them came from retailers that have filed for bankruptcy during the pandemic.
Many of those retailers started the lockdown with a lot of debt. Meanwhile, COVID-19 accelerated a trend that was already underway.
“We’ve seen the casualization of the office, of workwear, for several years now,” said Tiffany Hogan, a retail analyst at Kantar. “Dress-down Friday is not just jeans anymore. It’s even more casual than that.”
Since working from home is the new normal until who knows when, could these retailers maybe change things up? Start selling more casual clothing?
“They’re two totally different animals,” said Michael Londrigan, who teaches at the fashion business college LIM. “You can’t just flip a switch and say, I’m going from formalwear to casualwear.”
A retailer would have to buy different materials, find new suppliers and designers.
“And that takes time,” Londrigan said.
Which we seem to have a lot of. Google, for instance, has told its workers they’re not going back to the office until at least July 2021.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
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This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.
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India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.
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As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.
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