Dressing for the Office Is Confusing, So We Asked Stylists for Their Best Outfit Ideas
You have to admit, up until recently, claiming you had “nothing to wear” was a slightly dramatic declaration. Chances are, you had something to wear, you just didn’t feel like putting an outfit together. And that’s fine, no judgments here.
But then Covid happened, and the majority of us spent a solid two years and change in zoom meetings looking professional from the waist up and comfy from the waist down. Cue the world opening back up again, and now you really don’t have anything to wear, nor do you have the first clue how to ease back into dressing for the office. You know, the one that existed outside your home before March of 2020.
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If you’re just a person, standing in front of an open closet, asking yourself, “What do I wear to the office in a post-pandemic world?” you’re not alone. MIKADO personal stylist Jordan Stolch tells InStyle she’s been flooded with new bookings recently, as clients are damn-near stumped over how to go about dressing down conventionally business-casual clothes.
“Sheath dresses, pencil skirts, 4-inch heels, and overly-tailored blazers are almost entirely a thing of the past,” Stolch says of this new era of office dressing. “The focus now is on comfort, while keeping it polished.” To achieve this look, she suggests focusing on more deconstructed, less-structured pieces that pay homage to the clothes you used to wear to the office, but with a “practicality meets functionality spin.”
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Still, not everyone headed back to the office is demanding a drastic change in the dress code. According to a survey issued by LinkedIn back in February, 47% of female and non-binary full-time workers in the U.S. are looking forward to getting dressed up for work again, while 37% of that same demographic are shopping for a new work wardrobe.
The good news is, there’s a happy medium: in 2022, you can wear something comfortable to the office and look glam, too. To find out how to strike that perfect balance, we reached out to stylists and fashion experts for their best tips.
Choose an Ensemble That Sparks Joy
Struggling to get even a tiny bit excited about leaving your home office for your cubicle? Celebrity stylist Cindy Conroy suggests channeling your inner Marie Kondo while getting dressed to spark some much-needed joy.
“Fashion is all about fun expression, and post-pandemic, your office attire can and should reflect that,” she tells InStyle. “Wear things that bring you joy, like a Kelly green blazer and wide-leg jeans, or a playful patterned skirt set. For more saucy flair, walk on the wild side with a cutout top.”
Statement Pieces Can Start Conversations
If the social aspect of returning to the office has you tempted to call in sick, Conroy tells InStyle a great outfit can make for an awesome ice breaker.
“Try a black and white striped ensemble, or a 3D floral blossom blouse and muted pants. Both are instant conversation starters that will come in handy for making friends on your days back in the office.”
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Comfort Remains Key
Home is where the heart is, but it’s also where your stuff is — like your fluffy slippers, comfy couch, and favorite snacks. To make the transition from your space back to an office space easier, fashion designer Ramy Brook stresses comfort is key.
“During the pandemic, many people turned to athleisure, and incorporating that style into office-appropriate looks is definitely part of the transition now,” says Brook, adding her three pillars for office dressing in 2022 are fashion, fun, and comfort. “I often opt to wear a dress or jumpsuit. A one-and-done piece that is effortless, but looks good and can be accessorized with fun jewelry, a gold chain belt, and either a heel or flat, depending on my schedule and mood!”
Keep a Neutral Layer at Your Desk
Offices have a reputation for being either too stuffy or mercilessly freezing. To combat the cold in the upcoming summer months — during which offices are notorious for cranking up the A.C. — Brook suggests stowing a jacket behind your chair. Preferably something neutral-colored or denim that would layer well over different looks.
Leggings Count as Pants Now
Somewhere, Blair Waldorf is shaking her head profusely. That said, Queen B never experienced quarantine life in which leggings, sweats, or anything with a stretchy waistline weren’t just pieces of clothing, they were beacons of comfort and emotional support. That kind of bond doesn’t just break, and Ariane Goldman of HATCH agrees: leggings are no longer just a leisure staple.
“I think we’re seeing leggings evolve into more pant-like silhouettes thanks to cropped, flared hems. Think less Soulcycle and more business-casual with flats and a button-down,” Goldman tells us. “We’re only beginning to explore how chic elasticized pants can be.”
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Jeans Are Being Redeemed
I can hear the disgruntled sigh through my computer screen, but once upon a time you loved your trusty pairs of denim bottoms, and according to Brooklyn-based stylist Allison Koehler, a good wardrobe starts with a great pair of jeans.
“We’ve spent the past 2+ years focusing on what looks good on top for Zoom calls. As we transition back into the office, I recommend putting more focus on what you’re wearing from the waist down,” says Koehler. “What I’m seeing from my clients is a desire to wear ‘real’ clothing, as opposed to sweats and athleisure. My advice? Now is the time to invest in a really great pair of jeans (or two); my favorites are from Blaze Milano and Moussy Vintage.”
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Break Out Your Favorite Blazer
Blazers are one of those versatile items of clothing that can go from brunch to the boardroom and look fabulous either way. It’s because of that versatility and classic air that makes it an excellent piece to have in your back-to-work arsenal.
“A structured blazer will withstand the test of corporate time because it’s a timeless wardrobe staple that can instantly elevate a casual look, while still being comfortable and on-trend,” says the founder of San Francisco-based DTC clothing retailer and styling service, Short Story, Isabella Sun. “For our clients with decision fatigue, we recommend this back-to-the-office formula to keep your transition smooth: a sharp semi-casual blazer worn over a contoured bodysuit, and a versatile pant that wears as easily at home as in the office.”
Matching Sets Still Reign Supreme
According to wardrobe stylist Caitlin Saucier, if your goal is to look chic but still feel like you’re wearing pajamas, matching sets are an easy solution. “For those that really care about comfort, stock up on matching silk or knit sets depending on where you live,” she advises, adding Zara is her go-to retailer for these types of pieces.
White Sneakers Are the New Dress Shoes
You heard it here first: Saucier says it’s A-OK to retire the pumps collecting dust under your bed. Find a sleek white pair of designer sneakers instead and, according to Saucier, you can wear them with sundresses, denim, and even suiting. Common Projects, she says, are “a great wardrobe staple.”
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Add a Pantsuit to Your Rotation
While there’s no denying the three-piece set is having a moment, stylists Justin and Julia of 707 Fine Clothing say pantsuits are the gift that will keep on giving in the workplace this year.
“Power suits are perfect for formal conferences, speaking engagements, and meetings, but one of the best things about them is their versatility,” the duo tells us. “You can mix and match the suit separates with pieces already in your closet and create so many different outfits using the same set.”
Try a Tank Dress as Your Base
The key to any outfit is a solid foundation, and according to Goldman, tank dresses are a quintessential base, especially if you can find one that’s solid and fitted.
“This feels like a new vision of power casual,” Goldman tells InStyle of the garment. “It has the ability to be dressed up with the right supporting pieces, like a formal piece of outerwear and closed-toe shoe for an investor meeting, or dressed down with a cute pair of sandals.”