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Topcoat: Dressing to Impress during COVID-19

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

By Lisa Bonatz


“Pandemic fashion is about masking disease, not personality.”

Sequins from the stiff fabric catch the fluorescent light, casting spots of glimmering rainbow colors on the tile floor and adding an unprecedented sense of whimsy to the bleak gas station. The wearer flaunts a unique ensemble: a lightly grease-stained lavender hoodie, zebra-print shorts, puffy unicorn slippers and a cheetah-print, sequined face mask. She quickly pays for her energy drink and scurries out the door.

The year is 2020; she could be headed to work her high-paying corporate job or to wait in a McDonald’s drive-thru. Either way, she would be fittingly dressed.

COVID-19 has done away with many things, especially events with formal dress codes. Long gone are the days of board rooms full of crisp trousers and neatly tailored suit coats. Students, investment bankers and public relations directors alike are now working from home in the cozy embrace of elastic waistbands and flowy T-shirts.

However, while the pandemic may have temporarily claimed the skinny jean industry as one of its victims, it has created a new fashion subset: work-from-home chic aka business on top, pajamas on the bottom.

Dressing up for work (even when it is all digital) allows you to start off the day with a burst of creativity and self-expression, while replicating the pre-pandemic routine of preparing for a day of productivity. However, under current circumstances, it can be difficult to strike a balance between cozy and classy. Sitting in my home office in snug ponte pants and heels seems just as unacceptable as popping into a client meeting wearing a ratty robe.

After eight months of practice — a phrase I hoped I would never have to write — I have mastered my take on upper-body polished leisurewear. My five go-to styles are below:

1. A collared shirt paired with an oversized chunky sweater: I could never get interested in “Riverdale” (sorry!), but the one part of the show that did manage to captivate me was Betty’s embellished collars. Inspired by her preppy aesthetic, I like to layer a structured top under a plush sweater to add geometric flair and visual contrast to an otherwise lazy look. Who says the shirt has to be buttoned underneath that sweater? ;)

2. A men’s buttoned dress shirt tied at the waist and a silk headscarf: Wearing an oversized button-up shirt always makes me feel like Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Unfortunately, if my life were a movie under current pandemic conditions, it would likely be classified as a horror film, but we can pretend. Tying the oversized shirt at the waist adds shape to an otherwise baggy fit. Wrapping your hair in a headscarf is an easy way to add a note of elegance (and conceal any greasiness that your dry shampoo didn’t cover!).

3. A shrunken cardigan over a shift dress: You can be both online and on-trend. Right now, shrunken cardigans are a major fashion craze. Use one to elevate a shift dress and show you do your research both in and out of the office. The snug sweater paired with a flowy slip adds visual balance and will make you feel like you are getting a much-needed warm hug all day long.

4. A graphic T-shirt layered under an oversized blazer: This look is my go-to for unexpected evening campaign crisis meetings when I only have about three minutes to prep. As an avid jacket lover, I make a point never to be more than an arm’s length away from a trusty blazer. While graphic shirts add personality, they also can make your look reminiscent of a Justice catalog if not styled properly. Roll tucking the tee’s front and throwing on a tailored jacket ensures that your waistline does not get lost in wrinkles of loose fabric and transforms you from youth section to yuppie.

5. A high-necked, ribbed tee with delicate earrings: High necks are an effortless reference to ’90s fashion. The mistake I see many people make is pairing them with bulky jewelry. When you are on a Zoom call, you want the line of your shirt to draw your colleagues’ eyes up to yours. Big necklaces interrupt this flow and will keep their focus on your neck … work is already cutthroat enough! To solve this problem, throw on some dainty earrings that add sparkle but keep attention on your face.

Styling for a virtual workday is still a relatively new practice for everyone. Whether you opt to try one of my suggestions or cuddle in a simple sweatshirt, one thing is certain: Work-from-home days are here to stay until the pandemic is over … so you are probably going to need a few options.

Lisa is a public relations and clinical nutrition student who won her high school’s “Best Dressed” superlative … so she is absolutely qualified to offer fashion advice. ;) Her diverse interests drive her to be a copywriter, graphic designer, social media strategist, elementary school mentor, athletic recruiter and PRSSA’s VP of outreach. Want to learn more? Say hi on LinkedIn or Instagram!

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