Why the debate about post-pandemic workwear is a serious issue for women

June 11, 2021, 1:03 PM UTC

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! The first lady tries out a statement jacket, Asian-American women turn to self-defense classes, and we’re all wondering what the hell to wear back to the office. Have a restful weekend.

– Hybrid work, hybrid fashion? Yesterday, Fortune had one of those all-hands meetings that so many companies are having right now—the topic: how and when we are coming back to the office.

For those of us lucky enough to live in a place where the pandemic seems to be ebbing, “the return” is the topic du jour. And while questions about “going hybrid” and whether we risk creating a two-tiered system that might disadvantage working parents and others with less ability to put in in-person face time are the important ones, I will admit that I’ve been plagued with another query: What are we going to wear?

Apparently I’m not alone. I missed this Wall Street Journal story last week, but for better or worse, the issue it grapples with—what post-pandemic workwear will look like—remains painfully relevant. I found it particularly reassuring that even Elizabeth Spaulding, incoming CEO of Stitch Fix, a company that’s all about clothing and styling, is struggling with her new work look, ultimately settling on espadrilles and white jeans for one recent in-person meeting. (“It’s more casual than I would have been in the past, but getting dressed and pulling it all together is harder,” Spaulding told WSJ.)

As you might guess, the idea that things are likely to be more relaxed and more comfortable is a through line. And while there’s plenty to cheer about that (especially the comfortable part!), the story points out that the ability to dress casually does not belong equally to all people:

“In a study published last year by Regan Gurung, a professor of psychological science at Oregon State University, the same Black men were shown to observers wearing different outfits, from suits to hoodies and sweatpants. They were viewed as intelligent and trustworthy only when they were dressed formally, Prof. Gurung said, adding that other studies show white men don’t face the same prejudices.

The same holds true for women, according to Joy Peluchette, a senior management professor at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., who has studied the issue. ‘When women conform to the stereotypes of their industry, they are more likely to get a promotion or a raise,’ Prof. Peluchette said.”

So, while some might be tempted to write off questions about post-COVID fashion as silly or superficial, not everyone can afford to be so cavalier. What we wear matters—and while the pandemic has changed many things, I don’t think that’s one of them.

Kristen Bellstrom

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


- Fashion statement. In more fashion news: On the Bidens' trip to the U.K., First Lady Jill Biden wore a jacket with the word "Love" emblazoned across the back. For many, the choice recalled the last time a first lady sported words on her jacket: Melania Trump's infamous "I really don't care, do u?" coat. Biden says she wore the outerwear to communicate that "we're bringing love from America." AP

- Picture-perfect? Amber Adler is running for New York City Council, and she's the first Orthodox Jewish woman to do so in her district. But her district includes ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn—and the area's newspapers won't print photos of women or girls, citing religious reasons. That means Adler can't be pictured in her own campaign ads. Politico

- Mining new territory. In recent years, mining companies have sought to hire more women to the male-dominated field. But their efforts, from direct recruiting to apprenticeships, haven't been very successful. A lack of flexibility and harassment at work are partly to blame. Wall Street Journal

- Leave it to Lewis. John Lewis, led by chair Sharon White, will offer six months of parental leave to all employees, making the company the first U.K. retailer to offer six months of leave to both mothers and fathers. Guardian

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Shake Shack hired Goldman Sachs analyst Katherine Fogertey as CFO; she succeeds Tara Comonte, who became CEO of TMRW Life Sciences. Anita Frew, chair of the U.K. chemicals group Croda, will become chair of Rolls-Royce, making her the first woman to hold that job. At the Bank of England, COO Joanna Place will "mov[e] across from her current role" to lead regional strategy. Former Broadridge Financial Solutions global CMO Deborah Bussière will become CMO of digital currency asset manager Grayscale Investments.  Pereira O’Dell promoted Mona Gonzalez and Natalie Nymark to presidents of the agency. Salem Academy and College hired the University of New Haven's Summer Johnson McGee as president. One Identity hired Rima Pawar as VP of product management. Groundwork Collaborative named interim executive director Lindsay Owens to the role on a permanent basis. 


- Banning talent? How will restrictive abortion laws affect business? A new op-ed for Fortune argues that businesses hiring in states with limited reproductive rights will struggle in the war for talent because of such restrictions—and what they signal to employees about what it might be like to relocate to a new state. Fortune

- Called to class. As attacks on Asian-Americans rose this year, many Asian women started taking self-defense classes. Yasmin Tayag, who organized a class for friends, writes that the sessions encourage attendees to conquer feelings of helplessness and build community. New York Times

- Retail therapy. Shopped for any Theranos merch on Etsy lately? Sales of products from an "authentic Theranos lab coat" to "Elizabeth Holmes is my #GirlBoss" t-shirts are apparently soaring ahead of the disgraced blood-testing startup founder's criminal trial. CNBC


The pill helped start the sexual revolution. What will Phexxi do? New York Times

U.K.’s first all-Black, all-female Shakespeare company aim to shine new light on Bard Guardian

Huma Abedin is releasing a memoir The Cut


"None of it makes sense. It never will."

-Amanda Kloots, who lost her husband to COVID-19. Her new book is Live Your Life: My Story of Loving and Losing Nick Cordero

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