How to Dress for Work: Does it Matter Less in the Hybrid Working Era?
Whether you’ve been working from home since the beginning of the pandemic, you’re starting a new job, or simply just highly fashion-conscious - you might be wondering what to wear to work so you look as professional as possible.
The truth is, when it comes to how to dress for work, it depends entirely on your office dress code. But with remote and hybrid working changing the corporate environment, has the way we dress for the office changed?
What Does the Office Dress Code Mean?
When you’re starting a new job, a dress code might be outlined in the contract. Some industries require more formal dress, whilst others are a little more lenient when it comes to employees’ wardrobes - but what exactly do each of the dress codes entail?
As the name suggests, business formal is the strictest dress code for a professional environment and is very similar to ‘black tie’, so dark suits are required for both men and women.
Business formal dress is very conservative and usually only required for certain occasions, such as job interviews in more traditional industries, such as law or finance, important client meetings and award ceremonies.
Some examples of business formal attire include:
A tailored two-piece suit in a dark colour, such as grey, brown, navy or black
A plain or simple striped button-down shirt - lighter colours are preferred
Dress shoes in black or brown leather
A knee-length suit dress in a dark colour
A silk blouse tucked into suit trousers or skirt
Dress shoes - small heels are traditionally worn
When it comes to accessories for business formal, it’s best to keep things pared-back, such as a simple pair of stud earrings, plain cufflinks, a black leather belt and a suitable tie.
Whilst business professional attire is very similar to business formal, the former has a little more leeway. For suits, the rules remain largely the same, however subtle pinstripes or patterns are more accepted, as are coloured shirts or blouses.
As for accessories, patterned or coloured ties are generally accepted, as are a couple of pieces of more statement jewellery for women.
Even less formal again, traditional attire is still expected for business casual, but the requirements are a little more relaxed. However, when it comes to this particular dress code, its meaning can vary between companies, so it’s always best to check what is required when starting at a new establishment.
As a general rule, the requirements for business casual include:
Whilst business casual is a lot more relaxed than the professional or formal counterparts, clothing still has to remain smart and polished, so always err on the side of caution when it comes to introducing colours and patterns.
Usually adopted by creative industries and start-ups, business casual is the most relaxed of the business dress codes - but professionalism is still required.
A business casual wardrobe may include:
T-shirts and polo shirts
When it comes to dressing business casual, it really can vary from industry to industry, so it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed when starting a new role. That way, you can judge how your colleagues interpret the dress code and amend yours accordingly.
How to Dress Appropriately for Work
If you’re wondering how to dress appropriately for post-pandemic work heading into 2023, you wouldn’t be alone. For most industries, dressing professionally in the workplace is incredibly important - especially when starting out at a new company.
Although it’s perhaps more important to get the dress code right when dressing for business formal and professional, it’s still important to make the right impression. With this in mind, you should try to avoid:
Anything too low-cut or high-rise
Distracting colours or patterns
Leading recruiters, Michael Page, advise people to ‘dress for the job you want to be doing! Look at the senior people in your company; how do they dress and present themselves? Follow their lead’.
Has Hybrid Working Changed Our Office Attire?
Business professional and formal attire are incredibly traditional dress codes, and may not be as widely adopted as they once were, but has the pandemic and shift in practices to a more hybrid way of working transformed business wardrobes?
Changes in Office Attire Pre-Pandemic
You might be surprised to hear that more casual office attire was being adopted even before the first lockdown. Perhaps the very first nod towards a more relaxed approach was when ‘Casual Friday’ was officially coined in the 1990s, allowing workers to dress more comfortably for one day a week.
However, more recently In 2019, Goldman Sachs announced that they would be adopting a ‘firm-wide flexible dress code’ and urged its employees to ‘exercise good judgement in this regard’.
And prior to this in 2015, Barclays amended their dress code to be more in-line with tech startups than other banks. However, this led to workers testing the waters with their wardrobe, leading CEO John McFarlane to reach out to employees, reminding them that the bank ‘would not tolerate jeans, flip flops, trainers or t-shirts’ at their Canary Wharf headquarters. This poses the question: is it possible to relax a formal dress code, without people taking it too far?
How Casual is Too Casual?
When we look at CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg, whose go-to outfit for the office is jeans and a grey t-shirt, it makes us question whether what you wear to work really makes any difference.
After all, if a man worth $65 billion can show up to work dressed in such a relaxed manner and still be successful, does the same not apply for the rest of the working population?
This may not be the case. According to studies, wearing more formal attire can increase confidence and work performance, which, in turn, may lead to more lucrative promotions.
However, in previous years when dress codes were more clearly defined, it was almost easier to ‘dress for success’. But now that the lines are more blurred and people have relaxed a little post-pandemic, knowing what to wear for work can be more difficult, as Barclays found out in 2015.
How Has Work Attire Been Affected by the Pandemic?
The overall consensus is that comfort is now an even bigger priority, which was highlighted in 2021, when retailer Marks and Spencer decreased the number of stores selling men’s suits in order to focus on ‘separates’ - making people question whether this was the start of a decline for this menswear staple.
In fact, Wes Taylor, Director of Menswear at M&S, stated that ‘the pandemic hit fast-forward on the trend for more casual dressing - especially for the office’. So whilst the most traditional office outfits may have been on the decline pre-pandemic, multiple lockdowns and the adoption of more hybrid working models has accelerated this new way of dressing for the office.
This is echoed in research carried out by Kantar Group, which found that suit sales had been on the decline for a while, with UK sales falling by 2.3 million since 2017. The research found that men purchased 2 million suits in 2021, compared to 4.3 million in 2017, showing the shift in attire towards the end of the pandemic.
What Does the Future Look Like for Office Dress Codes?
With over three-quarters of employers now offering hybrid working, the entire professional landscape has changed - including office wear.
Prior to the hybrid working era, office workers would usually have a professional wardrobe and an off-duty wardrobe, but now that some people have only returned to the office part-time, their shopping habits have changed.
Whilst the sales of sweatpants have been decreasing since people returned to the office in 2021, people are still looking to dress as comfortably as possible. According to Klarna, clothing such as knitted dresses, baggy jeans and linen pants all saw increases in sales since people started to return to the office.
However, the cost of living crisis has also had a huge impact on office wardrobes. According to Maria Rugolo, Director of Fashion Apparel at NPD group, this ‘hybrid wardrobe’ is driven by people wanting to buy clothes that they can use across the different aspects of their lives. This sentiment is echoed by Joanne Thomas from Coloro, who explained that people’s shopping habits have shifted towards ‘comfort, value-per-wear and versatility’, leading to a more sustainable double-duty clothing trend.
What you wear to the office really will depend on your industry and company, but the general consensus is that formal, stuffy dressing is on its way out and more casual, comfortable attire - whatever that looks like - has made its way into people’s office wardrobes.