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Will we ever wear real clothes again?

As time spent inside our homes mounts, shoes, bras, and belts are becoming alien concepts.

Tomesha Campbell looked through her wardrobe in her Watertown apartment on Tuesday afternoon. After working from home the past several months, Campbell now looks in her closet and wonders why she bought such dark clothes, and the quarantine has inspired her to reinvent her image.
Tomesha Campbell looked through her wardrobe in her Watertown apartment on Tuesday afternoon. After working from home the past several months, Campbell now looks in her closet and wonders why she bought such dark clothes, and the quarantine has inspired her to reinvent her image.Erin Clark / Globe Staff

You know those people who are delighted to be back in their work clothes? Who chirp things like, “When I shower and put on a suit I feel ready to show up for the day” and “I missed my heels.”

Well, this story is not for them.

It’s for the rest of us — the feral majority, for whom Casual Friday is now the dressiest day of the week. Who have stopped wearing bras, shoes, and ties. Who experience zipper rage.

It’s for people who look in their closets, at dress pants and blouses, at skirts for God’s sake, and wonder, “Who was this person who wore all these strange garments?”

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After half a year of working from home, Carolyn Spicer, the president of McDermott Ventures in Boston, no longer sees the need for most jewelry. “A ‘statement necklace’ — I don’t even know what that is anymore,” she said.

As for the five outfits per week her former self used to wear . . . “That seems like an incredible challenge."

Obsessing over pandemic fashion is a luxury some don’t have. Many workers have been forced to show up at their jobs since COVID-19 hit even when it didn’t feel safe. Others have lost their jobs.

But with major Boston-area employers extending work-from-home policies until 2021 or beyond, and events and concerts and eating inside at restaurants and other fun activities either canceled, postponed, or greatly scaled back, the question has to be asked:

Will we ever wear real clothes again?

Maybe it depends on what your definition of “real” is.

In the before times, fashion magazines gave readers tips on looks that could take them from “day to night" (once distinct time frames). The goal was to jazz your prim office outfit into a sexy date get-up. Today, the ideal outfit takes you from bed to refrigerator to couch to Zoom and back to bed again.

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“If you have sweatpants and a T-shirt without a stain you can wear that during the day, and if you’re going out, just throw on a cute accent sweatshirt,” said Leanne Shapiro Govaert, of Peabody.

Accent sweatshirt? People, things are bad.

Govaert, owner of the Party Accommodator, an event planning firm, says she’s taking advantage of the double whammy of what she calls “Meta-Pause” (menopause + COVID lockdown) to go extra corona-casual. “With masks,” she said, “you only need to do your makeup from the nose up.”

In Cambridge, Joyce Gerber, an attorney‐turned‐cannabis‐podcast‐host, is embracing the housecoat revival. “Getting dressed seems really . . . time consuming,” she said. “I don’t know what’s happening to me.”

Apparel sales are down about 20 percent from last year at this time, according to Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry analyst with the NPD Group.

What sales do exist, he said, are coming mainly from sleepwear, intimate apparel, swimwear, T-shirts, and athletic pants (actual athletics not required).

“Ties are going to sit in the closet for the next six years,” Cohen said. When they do emerge, he predicted, it will be because some designer decided to resurrect a retro look, a la the recently trendy prairie skirt. “Who’s wearing a tie now?” he said.

Not David Fleishman, the superintendent of schools in Newton. This year, for the first time ever, when he recorded his “Welcome to the school year” video for parents, he did so with his shirt collar open. “A tie would have seemed out of touch,” he said.

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Ties, if you’re reading this: hire a rebranding expert. Look at the ruff collar. One day you’re all the rage — a way to show status and wealth — the next you’re consigned to some portrait gallery.

Another reason professional attire may take a hit: what happens on Zoom doesn’t stay on Zoom. Or as Tomesha Campbell of Watertown put it, once colleagues have seen the unvarnished you on Zoom — in your bedroom “office" with your dog or spouse or kids popping in — will they still be fooled by the appearance of professionalism a suit used to confer?

Pre-pandemic, Campbell, an executive assistant at a nonprofit in Back Bay, dressed in dark suits with the aim of projecting seriousness, even though many colleagues wore more playful clothing.

But now, she said, “maybe you can be a real human being and no one is going to judge you.”

As the early pandemic joking about spending our days in pajamas and pajama-adjacent attire has turned into a reality, retailers are chasing the waistband-averse this fall.

J. Crew: “Comfy, polished pieces for wherever the day takes you (even if it’s not much farther than your computer screen).”

Talbots: “Comfortable, easygoing styles for the way you live today."

Lands' End: “Comfy’s never looked so good.”

The comfortable-or-bust movement has gotten so popular that Elinor Ross, the grandparent-program coordinator at Buckingham Browne & Nichols, jokes-ish about starting a coaching firm to help people transition back to grown-up clothing. “They are going to be in shock,” she said.

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But some people are so intent on staying on their game fashionwise that they’re training for the day normal standards of attire return, like athletes staying in shape for the postponed Summer Olympics. Some force themselves to try on jeans, or button a skirt.

In Westwood, Tiffany Dowd regularly strolls her home in her red Prada patent leather stilettos to make sure she’s still got it.

So far, so good. “It’s like riding a bike,” said Dowd, who works in the luxury travel industry and needs to dress the part. “It does come back!”


Beth Teitell can be reached at beth.teitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.