One of the many outgrowths of Americans working from home—which, according to Gallup, is as many as 62%—is the wild popularity of schlubby attire.
If nobody’s going to see you pecking at your laptop (or if your colleagues via Zoom will only see you from the waist up), what would be the point of donning an oxford shirt and blazer, much less a necktie? The rise of what some have termed “business comfortable” isn’t only anecdotal, either. Surveying the work from home population, NPD has found that 48% of Americans are regularly wearing sweatpants and only slightly fewer of them (46%) are spending the day in pajamas. A recent study by Adobe Analytics charted a 143% rise in pajama sales and a 13% dip in the purchase of pants.
This trend, coupled with the well-documented travails of retail overall, would seem to suggest that a men’s apparel company might want to hold off on any major branding initiatives that don’t involve a three-pack of T-shirts. But the popularity of the bedraggled look is no hindrance to Chicago-based retailer Tie Bar, which is moving forward with what it’s calling its “next chapter” and a “new look and mission.”
On Thursday, the company took the wraps off an overhauled website and a rack’s worth of new product offerings, including casual items like short-sleeved button-up shirts, non-iron linens and new styles of socks. But to hear CEO Allyson Lewis tell it, the brand isn’t ignoring the trends set in motion by Covid-19. It is, instead, gently nudging the brand in a direction that it’s been headed for some time already.
“We were already in the process of evolving our product offering before Covid,” Lewis said, noting that Tie Bar, which started out in 2004 as a place to buy stylish but affordable neckties, has been steadily expanding into casual men’s attire for some time already. “We were already working toward how to live in that [casual] world,” she said, “and now people working from home has become an extension of that.”
For the last 16 years, Tie Bar’s differentiation has stemmed from offering dapper men’s apparel at a modest price without skimping on quality (a cotton floral tie runs about $22, for instance). The company has since begun expanding into a fuller line, but management has been careful to walk the fine line between casual and snappy. It introduced sweaters and flannel shirts in 2019 and then, earlier this year, added cotton sweater polos. And since Covid-19 has sent most of America home to work, Lewis said, sales of the company’s polos have proven especially popular.
“Our polo shirts have been selling really well because they’re an easy way to look pulled together, but they’re comfortable with jeans—or the sweatpants you’re wearing on a video call and they can only see your top half,” she continued.
The point is, Lewis said, despite the documented popularity of donning frat-house attire to work all day, plenty of Americans want to find a happy medium of wearing comfortable clothes that still make them feel professional.
For this crowd, Tie Rack has also overhauled its website, elevating its photography to give shoppers ideas on how to mix and match various styles. A new feature showcases influencer and celebrity styles and lets customers shop those looks with a single click. The company has also added new video content that shows visitors a behind-the-scenes look into the brand’s summer catalog shoot, a further step in demystifying the process of dressing well in this neo-casual era.
And despite some predictions that even the casual office dress code, first ushered into American offices by the arrival of Dockers in the 1990s, will never return, Lewis is confident that even neckties will hold onto market share—not despite Covid-19, but because of it.
“What’s interesting now is even though people are casual and working from home with Covid, the Covid crisis has made them want to return to dressing up more, so we’re seeing neckties starting to come back,” she said. “People want to get back to dressing up, and I think that’s only going to continue. There are only so many days in a row you want to wear sweatpants.”