How to dress for work in 2021 | photo by Kai Pilger for Unsplash

10 recommendations for selecting business clothes for the office

One nice thing about working from home during the pandemic was getting dressed each morning for comfort,  not the office. “Mullet style” was all the rage on days with lots of Zoom calls when a nice top could be paired with sweatpants and slippers and no one was the wiser  (even during a virtual interview).

And on days without any video calls? I’m sure many of us put in a full day’s work in our softest sweats.

But now offices are inviting their employees back, the easy-breezy days of summer are ending, and many of us can relate to this Washington Post article that explores how the pandemic has affected business clothes and how we dress for the office.  Because while most offices have been adopting more casual dress over the past several years, the pandemic has really tested the limits.

But, just how casual is too casual in most offices? Are sneakers okay? What about jeans? Leggings? Tee shirts?

If you’re not sure which business clothes to wear to the office this fall, here are 10 recommendations to keep in mind. They are great for all of us to keep in mind, but they’re especially important for new employees who aren’t sure just how casual their office will be on a day-to-day basis.

One note: You should always dress up for a job interview, even if you know the office is casual. It shows respect for the interviewer and the process, and it sets a professional tone. It will also insure that what stands out is your personality and accomplishments and not how you’re dressed.

10 ways to choose business clothes for these more casual times

1. Start off more dressy than casual

We tell our job seekers that it’s better to be “too” formal, at first, than to walk into work wearing a tee-shirt while everyone else is wearing a jacket and tie. This doesn’t mean sporting a full suit (so few companies require this anymore, and the ones that do will let you know before you start), but think about dressing as if you were giving a presentation. You can always relax your wardrobe over time.

2. Learn the dress code

Only a few companies will have a formal “dress code” but spend your first few weeks at work learning about the informal rules for dress. Does everyone dress down on Fridays? Do they dress up when the “big boss” is scheduled to visit or if there will be outside clients in the office? Do some departments have more leeway in how they dress (e.g., front desk reception vs back-office A/P).

3. Opt for nicely tailored versions of “comfort clothes”

What were the materials you loved to wear when working from home? You may be surprised to see how many designers are using softer, stretchier fabrics for their blazers and dress pants in their latest clothing lines. More pants have elastic waistbands, and women’s designers are finally adding pockets to dresses and tops. Men and women are sporting blazers with sleeves that can be pushed up the arms, and untucked shirts can look chic instead of messy.

Business casual looks for work | Christina for Wocintechchat at Unsplash

4. Looser is in

Pants with wider cut legs are more in fashion, and are often more comfortable, than the skinny jeans that were everywhere the past few years. Long, flowy tunics and less-structured jackets are popular–and many are even machine washable!

5. Are T-shirts okay? Jeans? It depends

If your office leans toward the casual end–and you know your manager or boss will be okay with it–a nicely made tee shirt or pair of jeans may fit right in when paired with dressier items like a blazer or necktie. Our recommendation would be to steer clear of tees with anything controversial or edgy printed on the front; jeans should be free of holes, rips, or severe wear.

Men's casual business dress for fall 2021 | M Brauer for Unsplash

6. What about sneakers?

Unless your office is explicitly against it, the right sneakers can make a business casual outfit really pop. Think of stylish brands like Vans or Vince Camuto or high-end athletic shoes you wear to the workplace and not the sneakers you wear to the gym. The key is to make sure the shoes are in excellent condition and pull the outfit together, not stand out like a sore thumb.

7. Would you wear this to do yard work?

Before putting it on, think: Would I wear this to mow the lawn/wash the car/weed the garden? If the answer is “yes”, your choice may be too casual, worn, or faded to wear to work.

8. Be careful with trends

Some trends, like wide-cut, dark-wash jeans, may fit right into your place of employment. But, be careful with styles that are too fashion forward unless you work in fashion or another industry that embraces creativity in your wardrobe.

9. Mix and match you business clothes

Once you’ve established the “rules of the office”, you can try to mix in some more casual pieces into your wardrobe. But, that doesn’t mean showing up in a head-to-toe sweat suit with sneakers. Instead, mix and match  casual pieces with dressier styles.

That could mean wearing a pair of jeans and solid tee with lace-up shoes and a blazer. Or pair a comfortable  dress with a slouchy sweater and ballet flats.

10. Yikes! I have a meeting!

Pro tip: Keep a neutral-color blazer or poncho in your office to throw over your clothes for those days when a surprise meeting with the boss comes up or when you need to take a client to lunch. It will help polish up your look instantly.

Before you can worry about what to wear to work, you need a job! Our jobs board has lots of great local jobs for job seekers looking to work south of Boston. Or call us at 781-575-0500, and we’ll help!