Like many of you, my husband, Frank, and I have found great comfort in our friends during the pandemic. We have one friend group in particular that has been a huge source of strength, support, and friendship since the lockdown began in 2020. The seven of us were close before the world closed down but it was the pandemic that really solidified how much we matter to each other. Early on, we gathered on Zoom for weekly game nights, they were the first friends with whom we got together when it was finally somewhat safe to see people again, and we have an ongoing and very active text thread where if you step away from it for as little as an hour, you can often come back to over 50 text messages shared between us.
One of our friends, Susan*, texted the group last week and told us that she decided to wear an outfit to work from home that she used to wear to her workplace. Susan has been working from home since the pandemic began and will likely be working this way permanently. When I read her text, I wasn’t entirely surprised that she chose to change up her telecommuting attire. Like Susan, so many people are entering their second year of exclusively working from home which nobody could have predicted happening back in 2020. When Susan told us how she dressed, I figured she had finally grown weary of her staple casual work-from-home attire.
I checked in with Susan to better understand the motivation behind her choice. I wasn’t surprised to find out my assumption wasn’t far off. While Susan’s workplace environment in publishing has always been casual and she could professionally wear jeans, she told me she has a pair of grey trousers she liked to wear to work with a particular top. Since working from home, Susan was wearing this top with jeans instead. Her choice to wear her favorite tops/pants combo was for several reasons. The first was sadness that she no longer had a reason to wear any of her professional clothing, like her grey trousers. The second was a curiosity if by dressing the part she’d be more motivated, and, the third, if after two years the pants still fit. The verdict? Susan did feel more motivated, she definitely felt a boost of energy, and best of all, the pants weren’t as snug as she anticipated they might be.
What’s the Work From Home Wardrobe End Game?
Susan’s story captures the mindset of where many of us are this far into the pandemic. What was meant to be a stop-gap has now become a way of life and it begs the question, what exactly is the end game when it comes to dressing to work from home? There is a permanence to what was meant to be only temporary and we need to stop thinking about dressing this way from that place of “for the time being.” In the beginning, it was easy to stock up on joggers and to get excited about a life of leggings and sweatshirts. Dressing during the beginning of the pandemic felt more like the equivalent of a snow day where we all hunkered down and got cozy. Two years in, it doesn’t feel this way any longer. Now it feels like that part of the snowstorm where the snow has turned brown and slushy. We’re sick and tired of everything and this includes putting on clothes we wouldn’t normally be caught dead wearing.
So does this mean we go back to getting dressed up again? The answer isn’t linear nor is it black and white. This isn’t an “I feel like crap in joggers so I will start dressing up again” solution. Susan and I discussed how we both got caught up in an athleisure slump at some point along the way during the pandemic. For me, it was a horrible habit that lasted about a week where I would wake up, get caught up in work and stay in my pajamas until I got changed into gym clothes. I’d head to the gym around lunchtime, come home, get caught up in work again and not shower until around 5 pm. Not seeing the point in putting on regular clothes so late in the day, after my shower, I’d slip back into pajamas again. After a week of exclusively wearing pajamas and gym clothes, I was so sick of myself and became terribly depressed. I knew I had to end the cycle. For Susan, she knew change was necessary when she was caught off guard with an impromptu video meeting with an author in the evening and was still in her gym clothes from lunchtime.
While Susan and I both put abrupt ends to what we were doing, some people see no problem with what we both found so depressing. This is why the solution to what’s next is personal. But, let’s be real. I don’t believe there is a woman out there who is dusting off her sheath dresses and spindly pumps to work in her makeshift home office. Nobody is swinging the pendulum that far no matter how demotivated they’ve become in their super casual clothes. However, I do believe many of us are looking for a more sustainable middle ground and are in need of a reevaluation of what to wear to work from home this far into this new way of life.
REEVALUATING WHAT WE WEAR TO WORK FROM HOME
I have worked from home for the past 19 years, yet, despite that, I’ve never been home as much as I am now. I used to be in stores more, used to see a lot more clients in-person and I definitely had a more active social life. These days, my life looks more like a rerun where I stare at my computer all day and where most of my clients only see the top 1/3 of my body. Over the past two years of lockdown, I’ve continued to refine what I wear based on what my life looks like now. I’ve continued to realistically look at how I am currently living my life while at the same time checking in with myself to see what makes me feel more motivated, happier, and more connected to the world along with what I wear that doesn’t. I am building my wardrobe with the mindset that my work will likely continue to grow virtually and there will be fewer in-person appointments going forward. Even though I don’t have as many places to go, it is still my goal to enjoy what I wear because I have found that, for me, it makes a difference.
The next thing I have learned is that I missed getting dressed. While it’s hard to justify too much effort, I have savored the rare moments I have needed to put more effort into what I wear and how I present myself. In January, my Unitarian Universalist congregation chose to go back to virtual services for the month of January while COVID cases have been spiking again. This past Sunday, I was involved in the services as a worship leader and needed to go to my sanctuary for the broadcast. My outfit wasn’t anything special — just a slim turtleneck, jeans, a scarf, and booties — but the way I planned my look, my enthusiasm about getting dressed, and the activity of putting makeup on, made it seem like I was going to visit the Queen. It felt so good to put some energy towards it and made me realize just how much I missed my weekly opportunity to dress a bit for church.
This is all intel and information that I have been gathering to direct how I will continue to refine my wardrobe now that the new normal is now just normal. I don’t see myself putting major effort towards my clothing every day, but I do see that putting effort forth, including makeup, at least once a week makes me feel really good; that I can’t slum around in gym clothes or wait too long to get dressed without feeling depressed and demotivated; that I should continue to add clothes that are work-from-home-friendly and make me feel productive and energized, and that on some days I will just want to dial it in and slum it.
What about you? Two years in, what have you learned? What realistic changes can you make that will make you feel better? How can you wear the clothes you once wore to work and find yourself longing to wear again but in a different and more casual way? Now that we’re in it f the long haul, these are things worth thinking about.
Outfits that Incorporate Professional Pieces into Work From Home Looks
In honor of Susan’s outfit that inspired this post, I have taken workplace wardrobe pieces and changed them up to be worn to work at home. If you have been inspired by what Susan did, get inspired with these ideas so you too can dust off the pieces you have been longing to wear.
Let’s break this outfit down. If I were to pull the trousers out of this look and swap in jeans, the outfit would be a great casual look. All I did was add these grey elastic back trousers from Benetton that are probably more comfortable than a pair of jeans anyway. I styled them with an acid yellow Pima cotton t-shirt from M.M. Lafleur and a cashmere cardigan from Cuyana. What makes this outfit look interesting without a ton of effort is the contrast of the acid yellow with burgundy by using these comfortable Børn flats, and a burgundy belt from Lauren Ralph Lauren. I completed the look with a statement horn chain link necklace that takes absolutely no effort to throw on.
This is the type of relaxed dress that could be styled for work with a pair of heeled boots or pumps but looks easy enough that it can also be styled casually with tights or even leggings. For a casual look, I styled this dress from Nordstrom with a pair of combat boots from Stuart Weitzman and silver drop minimalist earrings.
Aday makes this easy white shirt called the Something Borrowed Shirt that is made from stretchy, machine-washable silk that can go to work and is also easy enough to wear while at home. It puts that punctuation of polish on a look without going overboard. I styled the shirt with stretchy legging/trouser hybrid pants from M.M. Lafleur and layered a simple cotton tank from Halogen under the tank. I finished the outfit with slip-on weatherproof sneakers from Aquatalia and a simple layered necklace for that Zoom meeting.
In this outfit, I am using a true pair of relaxed trousers from BOSS Hugo Boss. While few of us are likely inspired to break out a true pair of tailored pants, Susan can probably attest to the fact that every once in a while doing something like this can be a real boon on motivation. Nobody is asking anyone to go all-out dressed all the time, but if you’re feeling demotivated, upping your game for a day can work wonders on refilling the tank. To dress the pants down a bit, I added this French terry sweatshirt top that wears like a sweatshirt but looks like a dressier top, and I added this modern scarf from Vida, novelty-basic triple hoop earrings, and comfortable tan Tory Burch flats for home wear.
If you wear skirts like most people wear pants, I casually styled this knit skirt from Vince for a casual day working from home with an ivory cable knit sweater from Theory, burgundy Chelsea boots from Camper, and finished the look with tortoise octagon hoops.
Dress So You Feel Good, Connected and Motivated
The only right way to dress when working from home is to dress in a way that makes you feel good, connected to the world, and motivated. What that looks like is entirely up to you. It’s not linear either. Some days you may want to put more effort forth and others you may not. Whatever the case may be, don’t discount the power clothing can have in making or breaking how you feel about your day.
*Name has been changed to protect identity