From starched and ironed white shirts and perfectly creased pants, the idea of the perfect office attire has seen a piecemeal shift. The lifestyle of the working class has changed and with that, their priorities have changed. Unlike earlier, now people want and keep productivity on the highest pedestal rather than discipline of attire. Right from exclusion of ties by the Silicon Valley workers in 1980s, 1990s and 2000s saw gradual inclusion of more casual outlook towards work-wear by incorporation of garments like jumpers, cargo pants, flared pants, and skirts, the change of woven shirt vests to knit half-sweaters, turtlenecks etc.; overall, valuing work over physical public image. Professionals now want to dress up the way that helps them get conformed to the work more comfortably and contribute to the organisation more efficiently. Isn’t that why the concept of Ergonomics was born?
Reverse Evolution of Formal Wear: Productivity Trumps Discipline Of Attire
A recent study done in the UK encompassing individuals from different fields in the corporate world showed the discomfort a strict formal attire may cause to the personnel and effectively lower their productivity. The study done by Stormline, the foul weather gear producers, found out that 61 per cent of the people being surveyed had a negative perception of any company that enforced a strict dress code, and believed that they would be more productive when dress code is relaxed. Along with that, there was a sense of commitment promised towards maintaining a decorum as 78 per cent of respondents said that even without a dress code, they’d still make an effort to dress well and would make a clear distinction between ‘work clothes’ and ‘non-work clothes’. 91 per cent of these individuals gave more importance to the quality and condition of their attire than the fact if they conformed to a dress code.
Thus, we realise that work-wear that looks formal but provides the comfort any casual attire promises is the need of the hour and nothing resonates with conformance and comfort as knits do. The stretch and ease they provide is what made them intrinsic to the ready-to-wear casual market and thankfully, the world of corporate clothing is now inching towards inclusion of knits in their production. Not just limited to turtlenecks and jumpers, these knit fabrics are now being used to make formal garments like shirts, pants and even suits and blazers, which, by convention, were always made by the crisp, fine lines of woven structure fabrics and this major shift can be seen in both, the international and Indian markets.
Domestic Formal-Wear Key Players Stride towards Knits
Many companies in India are now venturing into such formal garments that are made entirely out of knits and ensure mobility and functionality in the office environment so that the consumer is at ease while performing all the tasks he has been assigned to. “The market reacts well to the comfort knits provide, so why not use them effectively in making shirts, pants, and suiting and make office hours a little more productive?”, says Abhilash Ankit, the In-Charge for Sourcing at Arrow, which is one of the key players of the market when it comes to formal wear. Being the key niche brands under the umbrella of Arvind Lifestyle Brands Limited, Arrow and USPA are all set to launch their first edition of knit shirts and pants for Autumn/Winter 2018.
Louis Philippe was the first brand to launch such clothes for their SS18 collection in India and were embraced by many individuals striving for a comfortable work life, especially in the fashion and other manufacturing industries. “We got the idea from the Polo t-shirts and easy semi-casual knit pants and we simply went ahead with the idea of taking this comfortable attire to the office, giving it a formal spin,” says a representative In-Charge of the formal knit shirts’ production for Louis Philippe. Brands like Arrow, USPA etc. got into the ‘casual’ formalwear production after receiving a good response from customers from store surveys and interviews. They will be including knitted shirts and pants with complementary blazers and suit-sets for the collection. Companies like these are now devoting 20-25 per cent of their production operations into making such knitted formal clothes.
The way the knits are constructed plays a vital role in achieving the flexibility that these garments garner. Most commonly used fabrics are 100 per cent cotton 20 gauge knitted fabric, or mélange fabric for shirts, 11 Rayon T/R fabric for blazers, suits, etc. and heavy cotton knits for pants. For summer-wear, cotton and polyester viscose pants are used. The fabrics being used for these garments have to be of higher gauge equivalent to 22 gauge to give a structure to the garment and the finesse a formal garment demands. These high-quality fabrics are thus sourced from China and imported via Bangladesh. Fabrics for formal jackets and blazers are imported from Shishi, a small city in the Fujian district in China. Ningbo in Zhejiang is the hub for fabric imported for shirts, waist coats etc. while the Shenzhen city is the go-to destination for lighter but high-quality fabrics required for womenswear formal clothes.
What The Future Holds
New avenues are also being looked into like the Arrow Autoflex pants that feature an adjustable waist-band that can conform to the wearer’s changing waistlines throughout the day (pre- vs post-lunch, morning vs evening) to make the bottom-wear provide more ease yet have aesthetics of formal pants. Several new knitted accessories are also coming into shape like elasticated cuff-links by Arrow and silk knit ties, which have a characteristic open-weave texture that gives them a structural finish while keeping the weight on the lighter side.
Similarly, there is rigorous research and development happening in the key brands to make such shirts ‘stitch-less’, that is, bound by fusible material that is elastic in nature and further studies are happening for lining that is stretchable for the knits as well as woven shirts, providing ease in tension areas like the arm-holes to enable the professional to work with maximum mobility while performing tasks such as typing, using computers, writing, etc. These linings also add more value to the over-all quality of the garment as compared to the previously used taffeta linings.
Is The Corporate Consumer Ready?
On one hand, knitwear in formal attires means on-the-go attires that are there when you open your wardrobes, as they promise meagre hassles of ironing, folding, tidying up or even thinking about what to wear the next day- the options are endless. They have the flexibility to simply wear their office outfits to any social outing after work too. This kind of lack of extra care required will definitely save the corporate professional’s time and money, and they can focus more on the work that follows them for that day. A market player who provides the millennial and the experienced sector alike, the formal clothing that is transitional, comfortable and ‘smart enough’ would own the market. But, what’s the flip side to the story?
These high-gauge knit fabrics being used for the work-wear attires are yet to come to the knitwear hub of India, Tirupur, which is why China is gaining popularity as the sourcing destination for the knitted ‘casual’ work-wear. This, eventually, means that the MRP of these clothes would be higher than their woven counterparts, which makes these producers a little hesitant in completely expanding this sector because if comfort is necessary, so is the price, especially for this country. Yet, these market players are confident about their launches and are looking forward to setting the ‘casual’ work wear trend in the fashion industry. Let’s see how it turns out.