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Home office inspires relaxed work attire

by The New York Times | June 14, 2020 at 12:00 a.m.

When Dr. Denise McDermott isn't seeing patients for telehealth appointments, there's a good chance she's wearing a robe. In fact, as soon as she and her 11-year-old son finish the video portion of their work and school days, they both make the switch.

"It's become our joke during the pandemic: We're the robe family," said McDermott, a psychiatrist in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Now that many homes have become de facto offices for the foreseeable future, work wardrobes have adjusted accordingly.

"It's important to be mindful of what makes you feel good," said McDermott, 49. "Wearing a robe is almost like giving yourself permission to relax, but it also makes me feel powerful and confident."


The robe is just one of many cozy styles catching on in isolation; sweatsuits, pajamas and slippers have also seen an increase in sales, and leggings have replaced structured pants for many people. But while form-fitting athleisure is intended (if not worn) for physical activity, pure leisurewear is an unabashed investment in time off.

It took a pandemic for Alyssa Lester, 26, to buy her first robe: a vintage-looking floral silk number from Victoria's Secret.

"At the beginning of quarantine, a time where I felt very discombobulated, I felt that finally making my silk robe purchase would make everything a tiny bit better," she said. "I don't think I've gone one day without wearing it since I bought it two months ago."

"When I step into slippers and walk outside to check the mail, I feel like a hot, confident Upper East Side housewife," Lester, a painter in Brooklyn, added.

In the 19th century, robes (or dressing gowns) were worn by men and women as a transitional garment. They also gave women the freedom to complete household tasks and activities unbound by restrictive corsets.

Now celebrities such as Chrissy Teigen and Andy Cohen are embracing the robe for similar reasons and inspiring their followers to do the same. Retailers have reported a rise in sales from their leisure collections, which include robes and sleepwear. According to Jennifer Foyle, global brand president for Aerie, sales from the brand's "Real Free Sleep Collection" more than doubled between February and April. Similarly, a rep for Lands' End said that sales of women's sleepwear are up more than 75% from last year.

Supportive slippers and house shoes are selling, too. For example, Vionic, which specializes in on-trend, podiatrist-approved footwear, has seen a 300% year-over-year increase in slipper sales, according to a representative for the brand.

The shoe company Birdies' best-selling style used to be a classic black loafer; now it's a luxe satin slide.

"We've seen a significant shift in style preferences in recent weeks, with slide sales having increased by 200% since the beginning of April, once our customers knew they would be home for the foreseeable future," said Bianca Gates, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Birdies.


Instead of spending the summer in overly-air-conditioned offices, many will still be working from home, where staying cool will be a priority. Alexis Herb, 25, a geographic information system technician intern from Boston, recently ordered a silk robe to wear around the house because she wanted "something that was light and comfortable -- especially when it's warmer out."

Similarly, Rachel Bolt, 24, a student nurse from Shasta County, Calif., is the proud owner of a new silk robe from Kim + Ono, which she wears with bedazzled slippers that feature Larry David's face to complete her "quarantine uniform." Bolt has endometriosis and said that the robe takes some pressure off her abdomen.

"It's incredibly comfortable," she said. "I feel sexy, for lack of a better term, and in a weird way, I feel more put together."

Helen Sharp, 34, who owns a public relations agency in Austin, Texas, already had an extensive robe collection but bought a Cleobella kimono when she realized she would be working from home.

"I feel elegant in a nice robe and wanted an extra colorful one to lift my spirits during these weird times," she said. "I also feel like social norms have kind of hilariously flown out the window during the stay-at-home order, and wearing a robe just feels more natural and suitable to me than anything else."


Men are embracing robe life, too. Matt Sarafa, 22, a designer specializing in gender-neutral fashion and a student at UCLA, sees the robe as a garment that is not just flowing but gender-fluid.

"Men can be kind of weird about wearing things that don't fit the exact mold of masculinity, but I feel like robes are almost an exception to that because they kind of have a silhouette like a dress, but are still 'socially acceptable' in the very patriarchal society we live in," he said.

His garment of choice these days is a black Versace robe with gold baroque sleeves.

"It's a little boujee," he said. "Now that I'm home 24-7, I might as well be comfy and fly."

Michael James Nuells, 31, a professional actor and special events manager from Toluca Lake, Calif., made an investment in a silk smoking jacket (inspired by Hugh Hefner's) and a pair of blue velvet slippers to match.

"I can't lie," he said, "being wrapped in my new jacket and strutting around my house in my new get-up makes me feel pretty fantastic, especially in these horribly uncertain times."


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