Dressing for the New World of Work

Working from home. Top view of beautiful young woman working using laptop while sitting in home office

Whether you have returned to work full time, are continuing to work from home, or are adjusting to a new, more flexible, hybrid schedule, chances are things aren’t exactly as they once were. Much about your workday looks and feels different. Your wardrobe almost certainly does. In fact, a common comment I hear from friends I speak with, clients I work with, or even casual conversations I overhear in passing is: “I have nothing to wear to the office; all I now own are sweatpants.”

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For many people, the many months of being at home, despite extensive online shopping, did not produce a wardrobe they could wear outside the home. This is supported by the number of memes commemorating how sweatpants and pajama pants have risen to power and are now masters of the wardrobe. For most people, being home equates with being comfortable, and they feel entitled to wear the attire that facilitates that comfort.

But is there a downside to the culture of loungewear, or should we never bother getting dressed up again if we can get away with it?

It might seem that having to worry about what to wear is a stressor that the work-from-home culture has reduced substantially. People wear what they want, feel more comfortable, and can focus on the important things. However, humans are creatures of habit. When the start to each workday looks the same regardless of whether you are going to the office or not, this routine puts you in “work mode.” Getting up, showering, and getting dressed in the morning provides structure to a person’s day in a way that rolling out of bed and logging in, while still wearing pajamas, does not. This structure also helps to differentiate workdays from weekends, providing a boundary between work time and personal time.

It is important that the days you work from home, regardless of how many your company gives you, look more like workdays in the office than like weekends. At the same time, the loungewear on the weekend reminds you that this is no longer work time and is instead time for a break.

Having accepted that getting dressed up is inevitable at least part of the time, some people may face a new problem. As much as we might not want to admit it, it is harder to fit into slacks than into yoga pants. The snug fit of work clothes may remind a person that they need to stay in shape and keep to their exercise routine. Donning your favorite blouse may remind you how you looked in it the last time you wore it with your hair and makeup done.

In short, putting on your best professional wardrobe may prompt you to engage in self-care. This may take the form of regular exercise, getting haircuts, or keeping up with your skincare routine. It is less important what exactly you do and more important that you remember to do it even on your “work from home” days. The critical thing to keep in mind is that self-care is ultimately about you and not about where you are going.

Lastly, your choice of clothes is not only important because of what it can do for you, but also because of what it says about you. Clothes, like many other things in our lives, are a method of self-expression. All clothes send a message, and the message sent by your yoga pants and sweatshirts may not be the one you want to give your employer even if the company’s dress code officially allows for it. You do not want to inadvertently convey the idea that you don’t take your work as seriously at home as you do at the office.

Although we may not want to admit it, we usually take people in suits more seriously than we take people in sweatpants. So, if you want everyone to know how serious you are about your work, you may want to look the part.

Whatever your company’s “return to the office” plan is, it would be both hard to argue for, and unnecessary, for people to wear a crisply pressed suit while working from the couch. But a happy medium could exist. The rule of thumb can be, “Would I feel comfortable opening the door in this if my boss rang the bell,” or “Would I be embarrassed if my camera spanned my whole outfit right now?” If the outfit you are wearing does not meet these standards, then it would probably be a good idea to change.

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