October 3, 2022


Clothes that smile

The COVID effect on work fashion in Charlotte

High heels? No thanks. Pants with zippers? So 2019. In the age of quarantine and remote working, comfort is king in the Queen City.

Like nearly everything in life, Charlotte fashion has been turned on its head during the COVID-19 pandemic. With Zoom calls replacing meetings, couches replacing conference rooms and Netflix replacing nights out, business and formal attire are becoming as passe as handshakes. Instead we are seeing the rise of what the Wall Street Journal dubbed the “business mullet” — formal up top, party down below.

“I’d live in my joggers if I could, and the best part is that I can wear a professional blouse up top during my Zoom calls with clients and no one is the wiser,” said Charlotte business coach, strategist, author and podcaster Jenny Melrose. “Plus I’m able to hop up and be comfortable running an errand or playing with the kids. Comfort and style for the win.”

Jenny Melrose calls her “business mullet” — fancy on top and comfort on the bottom — a stay-at-home style win.

Based on data from 80 of the top 100 retailers, Adobe Analytic found a 143% jump in pajama sales, a 13% drop in pants sales and a 12% decrease in the sale of bras this spring.

So how are these changing trends impacting local retailers? Monroe-based retail chain Belk has seen an uptick in items such as leggings, sleepwear, athletic shoes, cosmetics and home goods.

“Instead of shopping for complete head-to-toe looks, we’re seeing more focus on dressing from the waist up – a cute top and a fresh face, and our working customer looks great for her Zoom meeting,” said Nir Patel, Belk’s chief merchandising officer. “Shopping patterns are telling us that our customers want to be comfortable but stylish while they’re at home. They’re also updating or reinventing their living spaces and spending time on new activities like cooking or going outdoors.”

Local boutique Captivate has added more comfortable items to its inventory, including short sweatsuits.
Local boutique Captivate has added more comfortable items to its inventory, including short sweatsuits.

Retail sales shift

With clothing and accessory sales plunging a record 79% in April, according to NPR, a shift in inventory and marketing is essential for survival. The pandemic has already forced major retailers Neiman Marcus, J. Crew and JCPenney into declaring bankruptcy, although retail sales bounced back up in May as stores reopened.

“During this time of year, we normally would have seen a very large spike in dressier dresses and heels/wedges for holidays such as Easter, Mother’s Day and graduations,” said Megan Fletcher, a buyer at Charlotte boutique Ivy & Leo.

Instead, the company is shifting gears after seeing an uptick in purchases including maxi dresses, graphic tees and tie dye loungewear. “We have followed these purchasing trends and directed our marketing to have subject lines such as ‘Work From Home In Style,’ ‘Free Shipping & Cozy Clothes #winning and ‘Sunday Mood: Staycation,’” Fletcher said.