I think we can all agree that global pandemics suck. I’m not a physician, economist, or mental health expert so I can’t solve any of those problems for you.
But I am a stylist, so I can help you figure out what the hell to do when it comes to dressing for work again.
Taking a break from anything for 2 years is going to make it difficult to find a new rhythm, and this applies to dressing for business, too. You left the office two years ago wearing an uncomfortably tight skirt and pumps – got used to your WFH comfy pants – and now you have to re-figure out how to dress for the office? If it hasn’t become abundantly clear recently, life isn’t fair.
Anyway, we’re going to help you figure out this new business dress code.
To begin with, it can be helpful to view this current chaos of confusing dress code expectations as a gift. Why? Because whenever the old normal gets trashed, it levels the playing field again and gives everyone a fresh start.
Whether you used to have great business fashion or not, it’s time to start over and do the best with what you have. You have the opportunity to use your business fashion as an asset to your business and your career – let’s make the most of this restructuring.
I know – we’ve all grown quite fond of our comfy pants at home and the thought of dusting off that stuffy pantsuit seems unbearable. I have good news and bad news for you. Bad news first – don’t wear your leggings to the office. No matter what industry you’re in, your clients don’t want to see a competent adult wearing sweatpants – it sends all sorts of mixed signals. Now for the good news – you can wear clothes with some stretch in them that still look presentable. Thankfully, there are plenty of designers that have listened to our collective cry and made some great pieces that are a close second to your sweatpants in terms of comfort, while still looking elevated enough to meet a client for lunch. Here are some of our favorite brands for that: M.M.LaFleur, Rothy’s, Everlane, Reformation.
No one is going to fault you for choosing your new business pieces based on comfort, but there is definitely a spectrum running from stuffy-old-school-business on one side to slouchy-just-rolled-out-of-bed on the other with a pretty big gray area in the middle. As you are finding your new normal, aim for “elevated.” If you are having trouble, lean more towards stuffy rather than slouchy until you get a better handle for the new expectations in your industry. It is always better to show up overdressed than underdressed.
The more comfortable or dressed-down your new business fashion is, the more you should pay attention to the colors or lack of colors that you wear. Colors can be useful to communicate different emotions and perceptions, but they should be used intentionally and sparingly or else you risk coming across as immature.
You cannot go wrong with Black, White, Gray, Brown, or Navy. All of these colors will help you achieve an elevated appearance due to the stability and elegance associated with this color palette. This is not to say that you should never wear colors, but as you are experimenting with this new normal, the safest experiments will involve these neutral tones. Then, add in splashes of color through your accessories so that you can utilize the benefits of color without them overpowering your entire appearance.
Now, we are really getting to the heart of the matter. You might have sworn off ever wearing heels again once you experienced life without them. That is okay, and you might be able to keep your resolution depending on your industry, but here are a couple of things to think about.
First, if you have the freedom to never wear heels again without hurting your business, congratulations! Even so, you must pay extra attention to what you replace your heels with. The single greatest benefit of the heel is that it so clearly communicates an elevated level of dress. Without this simple communication tool, you need to work a little harder to communicate a similar message to your clients or your team. Your sweet spot is somewhere between sandals and stilettos. One really good option that I always recommend is the loafer. It has enough of a heel to make it look chic but not so much that you will notice it while you’re wearing them. Another good option would be a heeled ankle boot – it will give you the added height but with more comfort and stability than a pair of pumps.
If you find yourself in the awkward in-between situation, where you don’t have to wear heels every day, but you still feel the pressure to wear them to certain events or meetings, you need a hybrid solution. For your everyday, take the advice from above and try a loafer. For the days where you sort of feel like you should wear a heel, wear one. At least at the beginning, until you can get a better idea for what the actual expectations are, just throw on a pair of heels (this brand makes suuuuper comfy ones, it’s like magic) for client meetings or big team meetings or networking events. Will you be overdressed sometimes? Probably. But is being a little overdressed better than looking unprepared? Definitely.
Okay, time for the silver lining – everyone is confused about what the new business wardrobe expectations are. You are not alone. Your coworkers and your clients are trying to answer the same questions you are and that means that this is an opportunity for you to figure out the right answer for your own business fashion and then use it as an asset for your business. Putting a little extra time into your business fashion right now is going to put you on the front end of this transition so that you can take advantage of the greatest benefits of it (run through the 7 steps to make sure your outfit aligns with your brand here).
And if you ever want a professional to show you the ropes, that’s what we’re here for! Look at our current offers here and if you don’t see something that feels just perfect, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll find a solution for you.