– You don’t have to look shabby with looser dress codes

By Jared Fiel

There was a time when frumpy dresses, power suits with shoulder pads and jackets and ties were essential business attire. Those times were already changing, and then a global pandemic may have changed how we dress for good. 

 “Not hating on Colorado men, but we are a casual state,” says Brett Wagner, co-owner of Bespoke Edge, a custom clothier headquartered in Fort Collins with a second showroom in Denver. “You go to either of the coasts and people dress up a lot more.

“We definitely see a more casual atmosphere, and then you factor in the last two years, and everyone went remote and working from home. Gen Z and younger, they wear a lot more casual [clothing].”

Ryan and Brett Wagner, co-owners of Bespoke Edge.

It’s hard to say whether COVID-19 was the catalyst or just Colorado style. Christine Bensko, owner of Madd Style Boutique, called Fort Collins “a pretty casual town to begin with.

“Women weren’t really buying into the ‘I must dress up’ to do my job. I think women are having more fun with their clothes, embracing more updated denim, and shopping for tops that look great on Zoom,” she says.

Even banks, which may be the last vestige of dressy business clothes (besides morticians) are changing their tune. Elevations Credit Union was fairly casual even before COVID-19, says Associate Vice President of Workforce Strategy Jean Ingram. 

Ryan Wagner wears a suit every day, so he does different fun linings to keep it light and show his personality. Photo courtesy of Bespoke Edge.

“Many of the folks in our back office take a ‘dress for the day’ approach, given what meetings they have,” Ingram says. “Staff who work in our branches have a more formal dress since they interact in a service capacity with the public but are able to wear jeans on Fridays and Saturdays.”

While the concept of business comfortable may be taking over, that doesn’t mean dressy clothes are going away. “I think it has kind of inverted itself,” says Austin Dodder, who works for a commercial construction company in Fort Collins. “Previously, the older generation like our grandparents would dress up for work and then come home and get comfortable. My generation, we are casual all day at work, but it’s kind of fun to put on a nice suit and shirt and go out after work.” 

Taylor Jaquez, chief operating officer at Tula in Fort Collins, favors wearing outfits that work for the office as well as the fun after. “We look at work as being a part of your life, and going out is a part of your life,” she says. “Wearing pieces that are comfortable at work and still look professional is what we do. And you can go right from work to happy hour, and you don’t need to change anything or just add or take away a piece.”

Sonja Kness, owner of Boutique by Sonja in Loveland, thinks women are ready to dress up again for work.

“Post COVID, women want to get back to looking and feeling good,” she says. “I think they want to get dressed up, and they are definitely wanting to look more feminine with ruffles and lots of layering.”

Her store is focused on the mid-30s population, but she agrees that a lot of the younger generation are flipping the story on business attire by wanting to be casual at work and dressy when they go out. 

Indeed, there are still some who prefer to dress up, even if they work from home. Alysa Holden, who does e-commerce marketing, purchased some of her outfits at Tula.

“It’s nice to still get ready and feel a little elevated,” she says. “I feel like I’m more productive. And then I can transition from the computer to go get coffee and I feel professional still.” 

But dressy won’t go away completely, and for some, it is all about expressing their style. 

Silk champagne pants from Tula.

“There will always be a place for suiting. You get to a level of event or formality where that is what you need to wear. There may be variations of it. But you get to a level where you need to be polished,” Wagner says. “I like style. I like dressing a certain way. It’s not a corporate uniform. I dress nicer because I like to. It’s personal style.”

But sometimes that style needs to be based on who you are working with. 

“Wearing a tailored trouser pant and cashmere sweater allows you to mix elevated pieces but the monochromatic look feels intentional and professional,” says Taylor Jaquez of Tula.

“I have Fortune 500 clients and I have clients that run startups,” Wagner says. “Startups, if you dress too nice, they don’t trust you, and Fortune 500, if you dress too casual, they don’t trust you. So, it’s very contextual.”

And finding the right clothes is also part of the presentation.

“You can wear a t-shirt and nice pants and nice shoes and be polished,” Wagner says. “The same with a suit. You can put on a suit, and it doesn’t fit. And you put on a suit that is tailored and fits you right and you get complimented on it everywhere you go.” 

For a place that does exclusively custom-tailored clothing for men, Wagner says they have grown considerably in the last two years. “The wedding business is starting to come back, and people are saving money on decorations and other stuff and investing in quality clothing,” he says. “On the business side, we definitely saw a slow down when everything shut down. But regular business is coming back a lot more now. Now we are seeing more of, ‘Hey I just got promoted and I need to look the part.’”

There is also that inverted part that Dodder talked about. Wagner says he went to a fundraiser recently where he thought he would be over-dressed, but when he arrived everyone had gone all out with fancy dress. “I was blown away,” he says adding that people probably missed their formal looks.