As people continue to spend more time back at the office, summer may have welcomed a more laid-back approach to office dress; but those who embrace fashion, including industry experts, look forward to the fall season’s tendency to step it up.
Sam Abouhassan, owner at Sam Abouhassan Custom Clothiers, recently took inventory of the office attire scene in downtown Edmonton. “I went to lunch on Rice Howard Way today, and I was happy to see the area busier than it’s been for some time,” says Abouhassan.
Out of over 100 people, he counted only five wearing a tie. Still, the activity on the street is encouraging. Dressing men for the office since 1978, Abouhassan describes the challenges for Edmonton businesses through the pandemic as unprecedented. “Downtown Edmonton was essentially deserted,” he recalls. “We really felt that impact in my store. We don’t sell casual clothing. We make suits, shirts and ties. Without people going out and most big occasions and events canceled, men had no reason to wear a suit or tuxedo.”
Also established in 1978, BLU’s is a locally-owned women’s fashion retail shop that styles women to look their best for any work scenario or special event. Owner Kerry Tham says the pandemic proved particularly challenging in a business where inventory is ordered six months ahead of each season. It’s also still changing wardrobe priorities.
“We’re so excited to see people going back to work,” says Tham. “The rules of dress have changed beyond having a uniform or strict appropriate dress for work. People are dressing for the occasion. If you have to meet a client, you’ll dress up that day. If you’re working from home, maybe you’re a bit more relaxed. It depends on your agenda.”
Continued hybrid work environments are influencing workplace dress. “We saw a rise in popularity in denim, more leisure suits and athleisure style clothing,” says Tham.” “Sweater/blouse pieces were popular for people on those Zoom meetings who really only need to look good from the waist up. As we phase out of strictly working from home, people are eager to embrace new styles and find their new go-to pieces.”
With more people returning downtown, fashion professionals are thrilled to see people dress up again. They’re also working to address continually changes needs. One big development is the recent spike in demand for special event clothing.
“We are really busy with wedding-related attire,” says Abouhassan. “Also, as is the case for many, clients have either lost or gained weight over the pandemic, so they need something new to wear. That means turning to an expert in design, measuring, cutting and sewing – someone who understands the artistry of getting dressed.”
While events have boosted business, Abouhassan sees office attire demand following more gradually. “People have become used to working from remote areas now, so when they are at the office today, the tie is missing,” he says. “People may only spend a few hours at the office, so wearing casual clothing is still more acceptable.”
But stepping things up for work is important, too, especially considering that fashion is a reflection of self and culture. “I especially want you to think of us when you have someone to impress,” says Tham. “If you’re in front of your board, you’re making a presentation, talking to investors or donors, or going for a job interview and need to make that great impression, think of BLU’s.”
As people suit up for work this fall and shift from casual into more formal workplace dress, there are no hard fast rules. But there are some key tips.
“It really is all about proportions,” says Tham. “How you feel, and how you want to present yourself to the world. When you wear clothes that make you feel good, you feel confident and successful. Find clothing that enhances your lifestyle, whether it be techno fabrics, fabrics with stretch, dresses that don’t wrinkle, and monotone colors for simple pairings. If you’re excited to wear something, you’re in an instant good mood.”
With so much change, reaching out to an expert is a great starting point to achieve a great return on the closet investment. “If you have to invest in one item, a good fitting jacket is best.
Moving into winter, a cloth overcoat, short or long, will be the answer.” says Abouhassan.
“Businessmen dressing semi-casual is not a bad thing, but I think people can smarten up that casual look by putting on a nice jacket or blazer, maybe add a dress pant, go with a casual dress shirt and dress shoes. But, if you are going for a job interview, put on your suit, shirt and tie, because, that first impression matters, especially when you’re at work.”
A stylist can provide guidance according to every situation to ensure people make the best impression. “The closer you are to counseling someone, giving financial advice or managing their assets, the more you need to present as trustworthy, competent and pulled together, like you’ve put effort into the details. It signals how you will approach your work and take care of your clients,” says Tham. “Conversely, if you’re in a creative profession, I want to see that creativity reflected in how you dress.”
There is room to mix things up, though. “We’re seeing a huge rise in separates,” says Tham. “People still want a blazer, but they want more versatility to wear it in more ways – with a dress, with jeans on the weekend – they want more mileage out of their wardrobe. That blazer can really button up your look without having to put on a full suit.”
There’s also a current movement towards a sustainable wardrobe as people prioritize quality over quantity. “Instead of having 10 pairs of dress pants that don’t fit well or will fade because the quality isn’t there, people are realizing they can take that money and buy one really good pair of dress trousers that have the fit and quality to last the test of time,” says Tham.
So, do invest in core and capsule pieces, such a good blazer, trousers and dress shirt. Then, punch it up each season with more affordable accessory updates.
Like all good decision making, there’s nothing like having a trusted expert to lead the way and ensure a good return on investment. The stylists at BLU’s take that responsibility seriously. “We talk about your lifestyle, end goals, size and body type. Who gives you inspiration and what do you want to project out into the world? Then, we build around that,” says Tham.
Like Abouhassan, Tham takes to the streets to check the pulse on what people want and need. “For me, it’s all about being inspired by street fashion. I love to watch real people put together outfits, and as we’re getting back to ‘normalcy,’ I appreciate the opportunity to see this in action,” she says. “I love to people watch and see how people are dressing. We can pay attention to the things we’re drawn to and go from there.”
For both these staple Edmonton businesses, it’s a loyal clientele that continues to drive them through these changing times.
“Edmonton is a great place to live and raise your family. It’s still affordable, and the nicest people on earth live here,” says Abouhassan. “Running a business from the heart of downtown, we welcome more businesses to open their doors and get our downtown back to the good days we’ve seen over these four decades.”
Tham agrees. “The support of this community cannot be beat,” she says. “There’s a genuine sense of community here where people show up and promote the businesses they care about.”