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How Do We Define Today’s Work Wardrobe?

Among others, one of the biggest perks of working from home during the pandemic was being able to wear whatever you wanted from the waist down. It didn’t matter for a Zoom meeting if you threw on a cardigan or blazer while you were wearing your favorite stretchy sweatpants.

The desire of organizations for workers to return to the office is turning most closets upside down. An April CBS report indicated Google searches for “business casual outfits” reached an all-time high that month. It’s a question on a lot of people’s minds.

No doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has loosened and redefined the expectations of office dress codes. Workers and clothing manufacturers alike are now referring to “business comfort” and “smart comfort” as the newest evolution of what we used to refer to as business casual. Unless you’re in an industry such as banking or law, no one is expecting the formal power suits that were so popular several years ago, but they also are not expecting sweatpants or pajamas.

Manufacturer Milliken & Company welcomed their employees back to the office with a “dress for your day” update to their dress code expectations. If you’re planning to see clients – in person or on screen – a blazer, jacket, maybe even a tie, might be in order. However, working independently for the day or collaborating with colleagues might inspire clean, crisp jeans, polo shirts and upscaled sneakers (leather or suede) that don’t look like you just walked off the basketball court.

Dressing for success continues to require a degree of nuance. Observe the people in your organization who have the job you want and apply a personal twist to follow their lead. According to Sarah Archer of CareerTree Coaching in London, “You’re sending a message about where you position yourself and what you aspire to.” In organizations where dress codes are more liberal or in transition, where employees are not reflecting any consistency, you might need to base your wardrobe on understanding and alignment with the organization’s culture.

Research continues to demonstrate the link between clothes and cognitive abilities impacting the wearer’s psychological state and work performance. The clothes we select and wear each day do reflect the way we want others to perceive us and how we see ourselves. Researchers like Camay Abraham suggest that a good approach is to dress like you want to feel as a way to embody the state of mind you are seeking, and to shape other people’s perceptions of you in a positive way.

As you navigate the evolving dress code for your organization, keep in mind that employees are still encouraged to dress to impress. Plan to update your wardrobe and prepare for everyday expectations, along with those special events where a successful appearance may help to seal the business deal.

One last thought: there is a lot of change required to motivate yourself from your home office back to the office. Don’t add to it by stressing out about what to wear. Designers understand what employees are seeking and work to make those choices available. At first, select clothing that is clean, well-fitting, comfortable and perhaps even a bit conservative. Once you’re back in the office groove, your observations will help you take the next step.