Friday, September 22

Women embrace colour and style as old office-wear rules go out the window

All-black outfits that once dominated work esthetic may have had their day

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The pandemic has upended workplace attire, too.

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After so much time away from the office, one big question for apparel makers was how would workers dress when they returned? Turns out that women are experimenting more with bright colours and patterns as they express their personal style, according to Rent the Runway Inc.

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That means all-black outfits that once dominated are on their way out, while shades such as marigold are in. Blazers are still part of the wardrobe, but they’re coming in florals and lots of plaid.

“There’s a blurring of the lines between work and social outings,” said Sara Tam, who has been the company’s chief merchant officer since 2017. “She wants a flexible wardrobe, and what we’re finding is that the office environment is actually accommodating this.”

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That shift has coincided with a collapse in demand for formal business clothing such as tailored trousers, according to Tam. Overall, that category at Rent the Runway, which leases women’s clothing, is down 50 per cent from before the pandemic.

The market for used clothing took a hit early in the pandemic but has since rebounded. Rent the Runway’s sales also fell, sinking as much as 55 per cent in one quarter, before bouncing back. In the quarter through July, which the company will report on Sept. 12, analysts expect sales to hit $73.4 million. That would be about 15 per cent higher than the same period in 2019 before Covid-19 forced the closure of US offices.

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However, Rent the Runway’s stock still has a long way to go. Before the pandemic, the company reached unicorn status as a private company with a US$1 billion valuation. The firm went public last October at US$21 a share. The stock then plummeted and now trades around $5, with a market value of about US$320 million.

The company has tried to make the case that the permanence of hybrid work schedules will benefit the firm, instead of holding it back. The thinking goes that fewer days in the office mean women will cut back on apparel purchases for work, making renting a more appealing options.

“Justifying purchasing new work wear makes less sense if you’re not really going to be there five days a week,” chief executive officer Jennifer Hyman said in June on call with analysts — even more so “if you don’t even know what your dress code is anymore.”

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