I stand athwart slobs, yelling 'stop'

How COVID accelerated our shift toward informality

A slob.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

Earlier this week, I received a long-awaited shipment from my tailor: a new suit and a sportcoat, perfect for a busy calendar of teaching and speaking. But as I opened the box and unwrapped the garments, I couldn't avoid a nagging question. With school schedules and in-person classes in flux for weeks and possibly longer, why do I need these things? For long days of wrangling small children between Zoom sessions, surely sweatshirts and jeans are more practical than flannel and tweed.

I'm not the only one with doubts. Although sales picked up during last summer's lull, retailers and suppliers of formal clothing have been hit hard by COVID. With more office work being done remotely, there's less incentive to make an effort — even from the waist up. And standards were changing even before videoconferences replaced board rooms. In 2019, the investment bank Goldman Sachs, a bastion of sartorial conservatism, abandoned its suit and tie requirements in favor of casual looks that identify the current generation of financiers as powerfully as Gordon Gekko's power suits.

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