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Expert Blog: Working from Home: Clothing Choice and Happiness

PhD Researcher Rose Marroncelli looks at the clothing choices of those working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic

Working from home

Shortly after the UK entered its first lockdown in March 2020, the menswear suit retailer Charles Tyrwhitt introduced a ‘proper suit that looks sharp on Skype.’ This suit featured a drawstring waist and soft construction, creating a ‘relaxed feel that also works for lunchtime excursions,’ (and cleverly allowing for any lockdown weight gain). Charles Tyrwhitt proudly describe their suit as ‘the homeworker's dream.’ There has been a notable increase in fascination with what people wear when working from home. During both Milan and London Fashion Week this year, a ‘waist up’ focus was identified. Prada strategically placed their logo near the collars on tops, making them ideal for video calls. My own research aims to investigate what drives the decision to wear particular clothes when working from home, and whether this affects our productivity and overall happiness. Could drawstring suit trousers become part of the new normal?

Much has been written about links between productivity and happiness, but the pandemic and associated lockdown provides an opportunity to investigate the relationship between what we wear while working at home and how productive and happy we are as a result. To find this out, I conducted an online poll of 50 people, supported by an in-depth approach with seven working from home millennials, asking them to keep a daily photo diary of their clothing choices over the course of a week. I then had a closer look through their wardrobes, followed up with interviews.

Most people assume that they dress up for Zoom meetings to look professional in front of their boss, and my research does support this. One respondent stated: "For meetings with clients, I’ll dress a bit smarter from the waist up. So I might put a shirt on or a nicer t-shirt. I’ll do my hair and make up. The bottom half doesn’t really change, because nobody sees it. I’ll just be wearing jogging bottoms or comfy shorts."

However, there may be more to the notion of exploring why people dress up for Zoom meetings than first meets the eye. Is it just to look professional in front of colleagues? Or is it really to feel more professional in yourself? Research has shown that clothing can affect an individual’s confidence and mood. Clothing is not only visual, it can smell and feel good too.

What I found when talking to people was that they felt there was a strong link between what they wore, how they looked and their productivity. According to one respondent: "When I’ve retreated back to being slobby and not as well presented, my productivity has gone down. Not feeling so confident in what I am doing, I guess, and that is reflected in the way that I am dressing. I really realised that after the first time I had a haircut, I felt like myself again. I think there was an increase in productivity at that point."

Studies have shown that people are more likely to describe themselves as neat and strategic when wearing smart attire, and as easy-going or clumsy when dressed casually. For many people now working from home, increasingly blurred lines between office and home life means that they are beginning to want more flexible spaces to work, as well as relax. One participant shared that they changed clothing during the day to help find a balance between working and relaxing. A further participant commented: "I wouldn’t work well in a hoodie, because for me, this is relaxing or sport clothes. I like to keep my day and my evening distinctive."

The psychological aspect of clothing is incredibly significant, and research has shown that the colour of clothing could potentially lift mentality, but that the wearer has to believe in this. The psychologist Carolyn Mair states: “If you believe that wearing a certain colour – it doesn’t need to be bright yellow, it could be black – lifts your mood … it’s a simultaneous wearing and believing that has been found to have significant results.”

Overall, this research has found that clothing choice whilst working from home can indeed contribute to increased productivity, wellbeing and a happy home. The clothing that we wear can influence how we think, feel and act. Although productivity and wellbeing are subjective, this research supports the view that when we wear formal clothes, we consider ourselves more professional and conscientious. The sense of simply feeling more productive can result in greater productivity. As wearing bright and colourful clothes can boost your mood, if you believe that colour has the potential to do so. The search for happiness has gained increased importance during these unprecedented times, and for some people, the simple act of clothing choice may have a significant impact on their happiness within the home.

Rose Marroncelli is a PhD Researcher in our School of Art & Design.

Check here for the latest coronavirus advice and updates from NTU.

Expert Blog: Working from Home: Clothing Choice and Happiness

Published on 1 December 2020
  • Category: Research; School of Art & Design

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