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We may be going back to the office, but the sweatpants are staying on and the bra off


Elastic waistbands, messy ponytails, bonnets and unwashed T-shirts. Some of us working from home have definitely let some things go over the past few years.

SAV THORPE: Definitely, the biggest thing that's changed for me is I have abandoned the bra entirely. I can't (laughter) - I can't wear it anymore. I'm not doing it.

RASCOE: Sav Thorpe is a political campaign manager. And before getting rid of her bra, she says she was leaning in hard to what researchers call the Zoom mullet. Yes, you heard that right. There's apparently science behind all this.

RACHEL FEINTZEIG: OK, the Zoom mullet is business on top, stretchy pants below. You know, the idea is just more formal on the top - that's what you see on Zoom - and then whatever you want below. And, you know, hopefully nothing that buttons or is restricting.

RASCOE: That's Rachel Feintzeig. She's the Work & Life columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and she dug into this topic. Rachel found that an interesting thing happened when people dressed more casually for work.

FEINTZEIG: When they wore comfortable clothes, it did boost workers' feelings of authenticity and engagement. So they were kind of more immersed in their work, more present. I mean, they were better at their jobs.

RASCOE: She talked to a number of people who said it was true.

FEINTZEIG: I talked to someone who said that her productivity doubled. I mean, she works in the mortgage space and can kind of track how many mortgages she's processing a day. She was wearing body suits. She - over the pandemic, she collected, like, 30 different body suits. And she would sleep in them and then get straight up, grab a cup of coffee and, without changing, you know, walk over her - to her desk and work. And she just told me she was so much more engaged in her work.

RASCOE: Sav said that dressing the part had had great significance as a woman of color.

THORPE: In the before times, when I was thinking about, like, getting dressed and going to work, I definitely had a very clear picture of professionalism that was really important to me. So even on school board races, when I would show up to things, it was important to me that people took me very seriously. So I wore a lot of, like, pencil skirts and button-up shirts, and I was almost always in ballet flats because, to me, they never went out of fashion.

RASCOE: But she said the pandemic helped her to just let all of that go, and it made work more enjoyable. She even had a frank conversation with her boss about it.

THORPE: I mentioned to him when we started the campaign. I'm like, look, you know, I think maybe I'm never, ever going to wear a bra again. And he was like, is this something you want to discuss with me? I'm like, yeah, I really do want to discuss it with you because you're the candidate. This is your campaign, and I don't want you to feel embarrassed. I just want to make sure that we're all on the same page with the image and your comfort level and all of that good stuff. And he was like, listen, dog, I am primarily worried about closing the 5,000-unit affordable housing gap in our city. You can wear whatever you want.

RASCOE: Dr. Christine Nguyen, a physician from San Jose, Calif., kept going into work during the pandemic, but said her attire definitely changed over that time. A couple of years ago, it used to be...

CHRISTINE NGUYEN: Professional shoes, maybe work slacks, a nice top. You know, things that had to be dry-cleaned.

RASCOE: Christine also says she dreaded wearing scrubs before the pandemic because they felt uncomfortable and too casual. But now that's all she wants to get into.

NGUYEN: I think that from here on out, I'm going to keep on wearing scrubs because it seems like the most cost-efficient, kind of time-efficient way to dress. And, you know, if my scrubs get dirty, if someone - you know, there's fluids on it, then I can just change into an exact same outfit instantly.

RASCOE: And what about those of us going back to an actual office?

FEINTZEIG: So I talked to one expert who told me he feels like the kind of things that you see people wearing on Zoom are just going to become acceptable in the office. So, like, a sweatshirt that's more tailored, that has a bit of a lapel, tennis shoes, you know, maybe some kind of athleisure wear. I mean, I don't think people are going to be rolling in in pajamas, but I think there's a sense that we've gotten used to dressing like this. It's become acceptable. And also, the way that we live our lives is just different.

RASCOE: So whether it's better productivity, efficiency or just because it feels good, go ahead and feel free to keep wearing those sweats. That was Rachel Feintzeig, Dr. Christine Nguyen and Sav Thorpe.


FERGIE: (Singing) G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S. We flying first class up in the sky, popping champagne... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.

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