‘Work from home’ suits hit high street as shoppers seek comfort

High street shops are preparing for a continued period of working from home with the production of “work from home” suits.

Marks & Spencer,which has seen a 42% increase in searches for formal clothes since February, has produced a smart-casual suit made from stretchy jersey fabric, with a formal looking jacket with soft shoulders and “smart” trousers that are actually sweatpants.

“Customers are looking for hybrid pieces that are smart enough to wear into the office but still offer the comfort and relaxed style that they have been accustomed to working in,” says Karen Hall, head of menswear design at M&S.

It follows the news last month that two Japanese companies had released their versions of WFH dressing: the “pyjama suit”. Whatever Inc produced a suit where the top half resembled a crisp white shirt, while the bottom looked like joggers. It was an extreme version of where tailoring will be going: digitalloft.co.uk has reported 96,600 internet searches for the term “home suits”, since last March. But the question of what a UK version would look like has lingered until now.

“We expect to see more relaxed silhouettes in softer, more casual fabrics as a more laid-back approach to tailoring becomes the ‘new smart’,” Hall explains. Other brandssuch as Hugo Boss saw a change in what their customers wanted. “Casualisation became increasingly important,” says Ingo Wilts, chief brand officer for Hugo Boss. He cites an uptick in sales of hoodies, joggers and T-shirts (Harris also says that sales of M&S polo shirts “rose by over a third,” in the last week of February). To that end, Hugo Boss collaborated with sportswear label Russell Athletic to produce a high-end version of Marks & Spencer’s suit: elevated joggers that could double as suit trousers and soft suit jackets worn with long-length shorts. “We’re uniting the best of both worlds,” he says.

Although it is working from home thatbrought us here, the seeds of the hybrid suit were planted before Covid-19. “Silhouettes and shapes were already heavily influenced by streetwear and the 80s, long before the pandemic,” says Christopher Bastin, Gant’s creative director, “giving (suits) a much looser and relaxed vibe.” Wilts agrees: “Even before the pandemic there had actually already been a shift within our collections to increasingly casual styles, often combined with tailored pieces.”

But others, like Savile Row tailors Richard James, which has dressed Prince William, believe there is still a market for the traditional suit. “A lot of our customers are really looking forward to getting their suits back on,” says founder Sean Dixon. “It’s a reaction to months of wearing the same thing every day. I hear from many of our customers that they perform much better in the business arena when they feel properly attired.”

Still, while we ponder the look of our future working life, the question remains: is anybody wearing normal suits right now? “Counting how many I’ve worn over the past year?” says Bastin. “The answer is definitely no.”