Long before the pandemic when I was working from home as a full-time writer, I made a deal with myself.
Anytime I’d sit at my desk, I’d force myself out of my housecoat and pajamas.
Instead, I’d put on a pair of jeans and a button-up shirt. At the very least, I’d change into a T-shirt and slacks, even though I wasn’t interacting with anyone most days, even virtually.
My reasoning was simple: it made me feel motivated to work. Aside from feeling extra productive, I also felt happier.
I didn’t know then that there was science to back up my reasoning.
In North America, we’re now past the one year mark of living with COVID-19, which has forced a large segment of the workforce to work from home.
While many put effort into dressing up for work during the aughts of the pandemic, that effort is wearing thin.
Sweatpants paired with a college hoodie is the new business casual.
And while comfortable attire is key, it turns out that dressing down is taking a toll on our productivity and mental health amid this lockdown.
A study from Northwestern University dating back to 2012 shows that clothes have a strong influence on the wearer’s psychological processes. It finds that clothes have a symbolic meaning for the wearer, and they also impact our physical experience, depending on what we wear.
The study uses a lab coat to—in part—come to its conclusion.
“A pretest found that a lab coat is generally associated with attentiveness and carefulness. We therefore predicted that wearing a lab coat would increase performance on attention-related tasks. In Experiment 1, physically wearing a lab coat increased selective attention compared to not wearing a lab coat,” the study notes.
“What a strange power there is in clothing.”
What we wear also impacts our mental health.
“One of the most important things people can do for their emotional, mental and psychological health,” is put effort in how we present ourselves to our own self, Psychologist Tracy Thomas said, speaking to The Huffington Post.
Thomas points out that daily grooming rituals are small ways we celebrate living.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t work for everyone, including those dealing with body image issues who might find the act of dressing up distressing, psychologists note.
And then there are others who feel completely content and productive in their sweatsuits while working from home.
Even before the pandemic, the world of tech was pretty relaxed when it came to workplace attire. And the sector was—and continues to be—booming.
Different strokes for different folks.
For now, however, I’ll continue to dress as best I can while working at my desk.
If only for myself.
I help companies grow by telling their stories.