Hybrid work, hybrid fashion: what the heck are we supposed to wear to the office?
The changing of the seasons from summer to fall often feels like the changing of the guard. There’s a chill in the air that somehow signals to each and every one of us that it’s time to re-focus, re-align, and take the time to rest and restore our bodies and minds properly. With the back-to-school hustle mentality pulsing through the air, many of us are also heading back to the office after a jammed-pack, celebratory summer.
After more than two years of working primarily from the comfort of our homes, we can’t be the only ones begging the question: what the heck are people wearing to the office these days? So, we talked to some young, stylish professionals working in the big city to find out the main themes and trends of office life post-pandemic and if sneakers are still OK (P.S. – they are, most of the time!).
A main theme in this article is the right to choose. We believe that every person, regardless of gender, should have the right to choose what they wear. We stand with Iranian women. Donate here.
It’s all about balance, baby
Office. Home. Rinse and repeat. As more and more companies call their employees back to the office, many of us are wondering about the “new norms” when it comes to style and comfort at work.
“It needs to be functional, it’s got to be versatile, and it needs to be comfortable and sleek,” said Léa, a 30-year-old working in public relations and communications. “I think people are generally more forgiving, and they are much more flexible these days, but you still want to look put together,” she said.
Léa goes into the office two to three times a week and thoroughly enjoys the new relaxed vibes when it comes to office attire. She says it’s more about finding those key pieces she feels good in instead of always just buying what’s trendy.
“It used to get so pricey too, always trying to find new things to wear,” Léa said. “It’s nice to have a capsule to pull from that’s just functional, kind of like a European closet.”
When asked how she honestly feels about her hybrid work situation, Léa notes the general comradery of office life was something she missed. Like a lot of us, she’s glad to have that human interaction once again.
“When the Queen passed, I was in the office that day,” Léa said. “Just having someone to reach over to and be like, ‘Hey did you see this,’ and have someone to talk to – that’s really important. It’s a nice balance to have.”
Dressing for life (and for the planet)
When you don’t have a traditional office to go to, your wardrobe can understandably get a little untraditional, or at least different than in pre-pandemic times. The lines between work and life have become incredibly blurred, and wardrobes have started to reflect that.
Steph, a 31-year-old in technology sales, says that before the pandemic, her style was clearly and rigidly divided into clothes for work, clothes for going out, and clothes for just hanging out.
“Now I’m definitely more casual, and I’m buying more things I can either wear working from home or on the weekend to go to the dog park,” Steph said. I don’t really have as much of a work style anymore; it’s blended.”
The “clothes for your life” notion, as opposed to clothes for different facets of life, is becoming a recurring theme in modern fashion. With the rise (or perhaps global takeover) of fast fashion, this is music to our ears.
Steph notes that while she still pays attention to the trends, she’s cutting back on fast fashion by investing in key pieces in solid tones and neutrals that are easy to match. But, she acknowledges this is no easy feat, especially if you’re tight on cash.
“I know it’s hard, especially when we were younger and didn’t have money to spend on clothes,” said Steph. “But as you get older, and you get a little more conscience, you can hopefully spend money on things you’re going to wear a lot, so you don’t have to go to that Shein site and buy a bunch of stuff.”
Pushing the envelope – just a little
What you can wear back to work hinges on the industry you work in and your office’s dress code (if it even has one anymore). So if you work in a truly traditional environment, such as investment management, the new, relaxed fashion norms may seemingly not apply to you.
“I honestly don’t think my style has changed very much,” said Alvina, a 29-year-old who works in private wealth. “That’s reflective of the industry I’m in – when you’re client-facing, there’s always an unwritten rule that you go for the professional look.”
But even Alvina herself is pushing the envelope regarding the norms of her ultra-traditional industry, but only a little. One day, after working from home in the morning, Alvina came into the office with plans to go out later in – gasp – ripped jeans!
“I was a little scared to walk around,” Alvina said. “But in a pre-pandemic world, I would never have done that, not even for two minutes, so yeah, I’m absolutely testing things.”
Typically though, Alvina dresses in a professional, polished way. You can find her in flirty, flowy dresses in the summer or a black, simplistic pantsuit in the winter.
“I like the put-together, versatile look that transitions from the office to an after-work drink – because I like those, too,” Alvina said.
Business as usual – please!
If you’re a fan of The Office, you’ll know the infamous scene from the Casual Friday episode where Meredith couldn’t seem to get that purple dress to sit just so. While that’s obviously an outrageous (and fictional) example, the confusion around what is appropriate and what isn’t in the workplace seems to be even more real in the post-pandemic, hybrid environment.
Sam, a 28-year-old working in the financial services industry downtown, said his higher-ups are actually telling employees to be more casual, not less, and it’s direction he’s hell-bent on not taking.
“Sometimes, I don’t really know the difference between business casual and super casual,” said Sam. “I might sound a little old school, but the super casual look doesn’t look great for our industry – it’s the intern look.”
For some, it’s simply been easier for employees to keep the same dress code because of the blurred lines around what’s currently acceptable, especially in a client-facing role. While Sam says he doesn’t wear a suit daily, he’s always in dress pants, shoes, and a button-down.
“Dressing well makes me feel more professional,” said Sam. “At least for me, I feel like the casual look gives off more work-from-home vibe, and that doesn’t make me feel like I’m really back at work.”
Confidence is key
When you talk to anyone about personal style, a recurring theme is confidence. Regardless of any dress code or changing ideas about what is acceptable these days, it all comes down to feeling good in what you’re wearing.
“For me, it’s all bright colours, and pieces that stand out and look unique,” said Vanessa, a 29-year-old who works in the pharmaceutical manufacturing space. “But I don’t want to look too chaotic, so I balance it out because it can get very messy.”
To balance her “eccentric” style for days in the office, Vanessa colour blocks her outfits, opts for dresses with belts paired with a small heel, and reserves jeans for Fridays only (paired with a colourful blouse, of course). While Vanessa loves to dress up, she has mixed feelings about going to the office two to three times a week.
“Some people are still strictly remote, but they want those people to be hybrid, and they’re pushing for more visibility,” Vanessa said. “So with restrictions lifted, clients can come on-site now, and everyone is looking a bit sharper than a few months ago.”
So how does one go about looking sharp in these ever-evolving times?
“Dress in pieces that help you stand out and feel the most confident – if you’re returning to the workplace, you’ll want to feel energized,” Vanesa said. “For me, when I look good, I feel energized to take on the day.”
Hybrid fashion is here to stay
At the end of the day, you need to be comfortable in order to perform your work. If you feel confident in a blazer and dress shoes, then more power to you. If you’re comfortable in a hoodie, jeans and sneakers, then go with that (as long as your workplace is cool with it). The more confident you are, the better you’re going to feel, and the better you’ll perform.
Hiren, a 32-year-old retail marketer, says he’s loving being back in the office because he’s a big fan of his company’s culture and prefers in-person meetings to virtual. When it comes to his style, he’s back wearing the things he missed sporting most when he was working from home.
“For two years, I couldn’t wear my formal clothes or the dress shoes I had in my closet,” said Hiren. “So now, I can’t wait to open my wardrobe again, and I’m excited about it.”
Hiren’s sunny attitude is contagious, but he also notes that quite a few people at his downtown office don’t want to come in every day just yet – and that’s totally fine.
“When they do come back in, they just want to be comfortable in the space,” Hiren said. “And that’s fine because we want them to come back and be a part of the culture regardless of what they wear.”
The bottom line
Whether you’re remote, hybrid, or fully back to in-person work, in dress pants or sweat pants, the message is clear: wear what you feel good in, as long as it’s appropriate for your place of work. And that’s a company dress code that should work for just about everyone!
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