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The Unconventional Guide to Work

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What to Wear to Work: Does Your Business Have a Wardrobe Crisis?

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Photo from Woman's Day.

Your alarm clock buzzes. You roll over, knocking the infernal contraption off the table with your elbow. You shuffle to the kitchen, turn on the coffee machine, and then shuffle back to the bedroom, throw open the closet and …

… crickets.

What do you wear to work? What do you wear? You have complete wardrobe blank. Perhaps it’s your first day at a new job, or you’ve got a new executive you want to impress, or an important meeting with some clients, and you know you need to look your best.

Workwear for both men and women has undergone dramatic changes over the decades. It's no longer thought unseemly for a lady to show her ankle in public, and men are no longer expected to wear a top hat to a lunch meeting. But even though many offices are adopting relaxed attitudes to attire, it's still important to know how to dress, and when.

I'm not going to spell out specific outfit choices for you – there are plenty of fab fashion blogs that can help you choose a fantastic work wardrobe. What I am going to do is suggest a few rules that can help you narrow down your clothing choices and decide if it's time to buy a few "work appropriate" outfits.

A Caveat

The irony may be lost on you, but I am probably the completely wrong person to be writing this article. I am, in fact, completely colour blind, and also completely weird, which means that my “work” outfits often consist of purple and orange combinations, paired with a t-shirt featuring a band with an unpronounceable name (“Is ‘Korpiklaani’ some kind of Scandinavian designer?” someone asked me in the lunch room yesterday. Close, my friend. Very close.)

However, I work at Xero which is a) awesome and b) pretty casual. Xero’s workwear policy states that pretty much anything goes as long as it’s comfortable and tidy and doesn’t offend anyone.

You do not work at Xero. I feel sorry for you :)

Do You Want to Be Taken Seriously? Then Be Serious

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Workwear capsule wardrobe from Sololisa.com

Naomi Dunford, who runs a coaching consultancy for small businesses called Ittybiz, wrote a fantastic article about her office dress code. She explains that “major decisions should not be based on rebellion once you are past the age of 14.” And she’s right. Of course, people shouldn’t judge you by what you wear, but they do. It’s a fact of life, in the same way that you walk into a bookstore and choose to browse the books that look like they’re going to appeal to you.

The amount of time you spend dealing with people depends on the type of role you're in. Of course, if you're behind the desk fielding support calls, you don't need to be quite as spiffy as the CEO during an important presentation to stakeholders. But remember that whatever you wear, people are looking and judging you. Make sure the judgement they make about you is that you're professional, attentive to detail and competent at your job – not that you'd make a great extra in a zombie film.

Comfort and Style Don’t Have to Be Different

There's been a huge backlash in the fashion world, particularly in women's fashion, against impossible-to-wear clothing. You know, the stuff that looks amazing but is completely impractical or uncomfortable. Designers are hearing you, and a lot of collections in recent years have focused on translating edgy, sophisticated fashion into more casual fabrics.

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Jacket by Erin Alexandra Klym

For example, check out this jacket from designer Erin Alexandra Klym. This is a very smart, flattering jacket with a built in scarf, allowing you to tie it in a variety of ways and create some unique looks. The jacket is made from sweatshirt material, meaning it's warm and cosy and not at all stuffy or dull.

You can buy a nice pair of well-fitting trousers in fabrics like canvas and cotton that feel just as good as your sweatpants. You can buy shirts made of drill fabric with looser collars that don't feel as if they're choking you. You can find a skirt with a bit of movement so you don't feel as if you're walking around with hobbled legs.

When shopping, spend money wisely – invest in a couple of lovely pieces that feel great to wear and make you look sharp, rather than buying ten things that look OK but make you feel stiff and uncomfortable.

Even Casual Dress Can Be Tidy

Even if your office, like mine, has a casual clothing policy, that’s no reason to drop the ball. There is a world of difference between "casual" and "scruffy". Even if your clothing is simple and comfortable, you should make an effort to look good. Comb your hair. Clean your glasses. Don't wear your jeans with the holey knees or mud-covered shoes.

Your colleagues, like you, would all rather be at home relaxing on the couch, too. But they get up, make the effort to look nice, and come to work. Don't show up and make them miss their couch. Show everyone in your team that you value your time with them enough to make an effort to look presentable – and they will treat you in kind.

You Can Change

I have to do a lot of walking to get around the city, because I can’t drive (see the colour-blind thing above). The idea of wearing my nice “job interview” shoes to clomp twenty minutes from the bus stop to the office sends shivers of pain down my legs.

The solution is simple: wear comfortable shoes, and change into your “work” shoes at the office. There is no rule that says you need to be wearing your office chic the moment you leave the house.

If you don't want your lunch date to see you in your power suit, then keep a change of clothes at your desk. Changing in a toilet stall is no big drama and can save you a ton of hassle if you have pre- or post-work activities that require different wardrobe standards.

But What If You Work From Home?

I’ll admit, the first couple of days of my freelance career, I chilled out in my onesie. I forgot to brush my hair. I may even have eaten ice cream directly from the container. I listened to ridiculously inappropriate working music at top volume. It was awesome.

And then I got over myself. I got dressed in the clothes I would’ve worn if I’d have gone to an office. I brushed my teeth and my hair. I ate proper meals at the right time of day. I turned the music off because, it turns out, you write a lot faster if you’re not singing along to Iron Maiden’s “Fear of the Dark.”

Funnily enough, I find I work much better, much faster and much more effectively if I’ve made the effort to “dress” for work. From the moment I get up.

Also, if you wear your pyjamas to work every day, then the joy of blobbing around the house in them on the weekend is greatly diminished, in much the same way that eating ice cream for breakfast every day of the week makes you less fond of ice cream. Save your prime chilling-out outfits for the times when chilling out is on the cards.

Workwear Resources

Here are a few awesome fashion blogs that offer great ideas on where to shop for unique workwear that expresses your personality:

  • The Classy Cubicle: A fashion blog for young professional women in their 20s. Lots of classic cuts and styles updated for modern style.
  • Die, Workwear! A men's fashion blog about classic style with a modern twist.
  • Cupcakes & Cashmere: All about Californian style – relaxed, funky, pretty, and professional – some great looks for women who don't want to do the black power suit.
  • This is Corpgoth: Yes, this is a blog about how to be a goth in a corporate environment. And yes, it is awesome. Bring on the spider-webbed stockings!

Workwear doesn't have to mean a suit and tie – but it does mean that you put an effort in to look presentable if you want to be taken seriously.

So, what are you wearing to work tomorrow?

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