Your work wardrobe hasn’t lifted a finger in more than a year and a half, and why should it?
Since March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic forced office spaces to close, our business suits, dress shoes, ties, fitted dresses and skirts have done nothing more than hover on hangers gathering dust in the closet.
But now that you’re heading back to your office, do you throw on those same old clothes? (And honestly, do they fit? We’re looking at you, COVID-19 weight gain).
And friends, it’s not just the abandoned workwear at issue, there is another uncomfortable reality as offices begin to reopen and employees are called back to their desks.
If we’re honest, we’ve become attached to our work-from-home, anything goes wardrobe. The elastic waistbands, billowy tops, super soft sweats and flip flops now feel like familiar old 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (and beyond) friends.
Must we break off our new relationship with stretchy fabrics and comfy footwear only to pick up where we left off with our stiff, scratchy old workhorse wardrobe over a year and a half ago?
If your robust COVID-19 pounds waistline is screaming “no,” you’ll be relieved to learn that while appearance still matters, subtle cozy changes to professional clothing are the back-to-office trend.
More than two-thirds of American consumers plan to change their wardrobe from pre-pandemic styles when they return to the office, according to Klarna Bank AB, a retail bank, payments and shopping service, which surveyed more than 1,000 people in May. Nearly half expect to wear more comfortable clothes, though women are more likely to dress up than men.
“You don’t have to dress in a coat and tie to look good,” said Jim Porter with Rodes for Him boutique in Louisville. “Business suits are long gone and they are not coming back. But you still need to look sharp.”
Here’s what the fashion experts say men and women should wear as we head back to the office in 2021.
Can you ditch the office dress code?
In short, no. Office dress codes aren’t just created to make employees conform. Companies set dress codes to help us come across as professional, capable, believable, and knowledgeable.
“It’s important to keep in mind as you go back into the office that the business where you work wants you to present yourself in the best way possible because you are a part of their image to the public,” said fashion expert Jo Ross. “A polished, neat appearance establishes that.”
Ross says your company’s guidelines are as much about what to wear as what not to wear in the workplace.
So while the dress code is becoming more casual as we head back to the office, you can’t throw all the business dressing rules out the window.
The workleisure trend is growing
Workleisure, the mindset of incorporating comfort into your daytime workwear, was becoming a trend even before the coronavirus pandemic. And it’s here to say in a big way in 2021.
Take Amanda Dare’s Louisville-based fashion line The New Blak at 805 E. Market St. Her clothes are made of 95% bamboo rayon and organic cotton and the v-neck, super soft Kate Jumpsuit may be the closest thing you’ll find to wearing pajamas to work while still looking stylish and professional.
Fans of the Louisville clothing company have been wearing the chic line of dresses, tops, skirts and jumpsuits long before COVID-19 arrived on the scene. The sustainable materials Dare uses are super soft and stretchy while chic enough to be workplace-approved.
Workleisure has also found a foot-hold in men’s fashion with the trend incorporating less constricting fabrics than before the pandemic.
“It’s important to remember that dressing is an extension of your personality,” said Porter with Rodes. “While there are a handful of men who will continue to wear a suit into the office, it is definitely not the norm. You can look great in a sports jacket, a nice pair of trousers and shirt and beautiful shoes.”
And the good news on the retail front is that clothing companies are catering to customers who want a conventional business style with a contemporary twist.
“The core staples are new takes on the classics,” Terri Cardwell, Macy’s Oxmoor Center personal stylist, told The Courier Journal. “Men’s style for the workplace has evolved into a fusion of comfort and polish coming together to fit hybridized work schedules.”
What to wear back to the office
For women in the workplace, a blazer or cardigan with a crisp collared shirt or round neck top, a pencil skirt or slacks will send the message that you are professional while at the same time allow you to feel comfortable.
But be careful how far you take that comfort, says Ross.
“Yes, I think we may see a bit more relaxed look, but definitely not leggings, sweats, or PJs in the workplace,” she added. “Those items represent relaxed weekends, and times at home, when you are off work.”
For guys, pants and slacks made with newer stretch material can anchor both dressy and casual outfits and can be worn with clean sneakers or comfortable dress shoes.
Look for air mesh dress shirts, pique or tech knit polos and even a refined T-shirt that will work under a blazer or shirt jacket.
Cardwell said if there is layering in men’s clothing, it’s now about lightweight layers worn together.
“Look for soft sportscoats for a versatile option that can take you from meeting with clients to happy hour,” she says.
And in most cases, it’s OK to ditch the necktie. Not surprisingly, sales plummeted during the pandemic and have not bounced back.
The exception is formal wear, which Porter says has been selling like gangbusters since the beginning of the year.
“We have sold a remarkable number of dark suits and tuxedos for weddings and special events which were postponed due to the pandemic,” he said.
How to dress for at-home and at-work
If you have a job where you now work from home and occasionally in the office, then by all means, dress comfortably at home, but remember to step it up when you head into the office.
Your wardrobe can transition from home office to the workplace with just a pop of color Cardwell said.
“I suggest keeping colors in the neutral zone and when you go to the office, add a secondary neutral pop such as brown or light blue ensures your outfit has dimension but still looks office-appropriate.”
It’s time to upgrade your briefcase
Whether you are headed into the office or meeting a client in a less crowded coffee shop or public meet-up space, even during a pandemic we need a way to transport important work documents.
Unless your occupation requires that you look like an executive, Cardwell says the more relaxed messenger bag, satchel and work-designed backpack has replaced the briefcase as the on-the-go holder.
There is no question remote working has transformed our work clothes habit. As we head back to our in-person jobs in “real clothes,” they will be less formal and more comfortable. Just remember to leave your PJs at home.
Reach Kirby Adams at [email protected] or Twitter @kirbylouisville.
Find a personal stylist in Louisville
If you’re looking to blend comfort and polish but don’t know where to start, working with a personal stylist is a great first step. There are several stylists in the Louisville area.
Macy’s personal stylist
Macy’s personal stylist is a complimentary service available to all members of the Louisville community. You can schedule an appointment with Cardwell at macys.com/personalstylist.
Jo Ross, fashion expert
A frequent guest at Fashion Week in New York City and Paris, Ross is a veteran Louisville fashion expert who has helped many Louisvillians create a personal style. Ross also works with young clients as part of The Louisville Fashion Council, a year-long program that teaches students to model and how to present themselves in social situations and professional etiquette. Contact Ross at 502-777-8507 or by emailing [email protected]
Tracy Varga Group
Whether you want to refresh your look, better utilize what you already own, or edit your overflowing closet, Tracy Varga offers a menu of services. Varga’s closet and style sessions begin with the goal of creating a wardrobe that works for your lifestyle and budget. You can find more information on Varga’s services and book a session at tracyvargagroup.com.
Rodes for Him and Rodes for Her
Jim Porter and the team at Rodes for Him and Rodes for Her, 4938 Brownsboro Road, combine years of experience to style men and women, whether your wardrobe needs formal, business, or leisurewear. With an in-house tailoring shop, customers are guaranteed the perfect fit.
RaeShonda Johnson, personal stylist
RaeShonda Johnson is a local personal stylist, shopper and makeup artist with a mega Facebook following at All is Fair in Love and Fashion. The site is filled with photos of head-to-toe outfit suggestions. Johnson also owns All is Fair, a bridal store and boutique located in Oxmoor Centre.
Chris Burns, mens’ stylist
Blogger Chris Burns is a mens’ stylist originally from Louisville. Although he’s now living in Charlotte, North Carolina, check out his social media for great styling tips and videos. on Instagram @chrisburnstyle.
MPG Wardrobe Consulting
Need help weeding out your closet? Melissa Gay’s MPG Wardrobe Consulting is a full-service wardrobe consulting service in Louisville and Southern Indiana. Gay can help you create new ensembles using your existing wardrobe and shopping list. For more information visit melissapgay.com or call 502-794-4849.