Return to Office Style – Decoding the ‘Dress for Your Day’ Approach

With many of us slowly returning to in-person meetings, thoughts on what to wear to the office are back on the agenda. As anyone who works in an office knows, figuring out a different outfit for every day of the week can be quite a challenge.  And c’mon, what busy person has time to trawl through their wardrobe each day to put together a swanky outfit for the office that’s stylish, comfortable and sends the right message.  I don’t know how we managed all this pre-pandemic!   

At the same time, companies are trying to lure workers back in, with hybrid working models now the norm, and the promise of fun and frivolity for those trekking into the office. Morning teas! Lunches! Free coffee! Puppies! (okay maybe not the last one) Another popular ‘perk’?  Getting rid of old, stuffy dress codes.  People & Culture are bringing out all the stops!

collage of woman wearing two different work outfits featuring return to office style and corporate style

Same job, different era

If you’re new around here, I’m a lawyer and I spent the first 10 years of my career practising in firms where the dress codes were what you’d expect in corporate environments – suits and power dresses galore.  The only time I wore casual to the office was when I worked at ‘progressive’ firms that had a Casual Friday policy (some of them were old school and couldn’t even compute that).  In the last few years, I moved in-house in the public sector, where the dress code was much the same – traditional and corporate.  (Great when you run a corporate style blog 😉). So you can appreciate how much of a disruption the sudden shift to remote work has impacted our ways of work – particularly when it comes to what we wear.  

My office, like many others, has shifted from traditional corporate to a ‘Dress for Your Day’ policy.  In theory, it’s great.  It’s recognition of change and embraces the modern ways of work.  Of course, standards remain for particular circumstances (eg. formal meetings, court attendances etc), but ‘dressing for your day’ generally provides for more casual and relaxed dress.  

It’s all a bit new, and a bit of a novelty as traditional professions venture into places their forebears had not done before.  A lawyer? In sneakers?! A consultant? In a hoodie?!

What do we all think? Let’s discuss.  

First, the shift hinges on one thing: trust.  There’s no denying that workplaces are putting more trust into their workers to do what’s needed and what’s right.  We’ve been largely left to our own devices for the past couple of years but the work’s been getting done. That said, a less prescriptive approach makes ripe conditions for pitching things wrong, particularly for those who are more junior in their career or those who might not be that interested in their personal style.  And it’s hard to criticise someone’s judgment when you’ve given them the freedom. Consider the potential hodge podge of outfits that might hit you when you rock up to the office each day! Sandra in compliance might be wearing a tailored black dress & stiletto pumps while Terry in corporate governance might be sporting a hoodie, jeans and white sneakers.  The disparity might take some getting used to! 🤪

As someone who plays it pretty safe, I see myself sticking to my old ways, that is, looking to my contemporaries and managers to inform my decisions. Call me old fashioned but it took me a while to get over the fact that I could spend an entire work day in track pants without my colleagues being none the wiser! Thankfully, the people I look to haven’t taken things too casual – their outfits are being pitched somewhere between Smart Casual and Business Casual, but mainly the former.  So my go-to formula?  An element of structure + an element of chill.  

So, if needing some Smart Caaaaash inspiration or you’re finding that you’re a little rusty in that department, I’ve got you.  (Trust me, this has been a bit of an exercise for me too!)  And you might find yourself wearing these pieces outside of your Monday to Friday!

You can click on the images below for details of each of my smart casual outfits to inspire your return to office style.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

P.S. Check out my outfit diary where I pop all my outfits and did you know I have a YouTube channel? It’s about 6 months old now and I’d love it if you subscribed!

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