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Can our wardrobes cope as we move to hybrid working?

Before the pandemic, work dress codes were becoming more casual with many of the larger corporate organisations relaxing or removing their guidelines. The pandemic has accelerated the move to casual as people began to work from home or remote locations. There were tales of above the keyboard dressing, comfortable clothes, all day pyjamas, etc.

It’s refreshing that dress codes are not so strict anymore. This means that workers can express who they are without conforming to an expected ‘work uniform’. The opportunity to dress in an authentic style has never been better. What we wear can be an implicit non-verbal way to express our unique personalities.

However, that relaxation of guidelines also throws up confusion as to what is appropriate or inappropriate in an office environment. There is anecdotal evidence that many people don’t know how to ‘look the part’, to ensure that they get the job, the promotion or the new client.

Research indicates that two things happen when you dress appropriately for work. First, those around you perceive you as someone who can do the job, who is ready for that promotion, as someone who is confident, competent, credible and trustworthy. Second, clothing can enhance our psychological states, and it can improve our performance on tasks. Known as ‘enclothed cognition’, psychologists  from Northwestern University have been examining the psychological and performance-related effects that wearing specific articles of clothing have on the person wearing them.

How can you manage your wardrobe to ensure you ‘show up’ appropriately whatever the work environment?

Here are five simple guidelines to help you switch back into office appropriate work wear.  

Start in your own wardrobe

The most sustainable place to start is in your own wardrobe. You may unearth items that you may have forgotten about.  A capsule work wardrobe could be three bottoms – either skirts or trousers; six tops; two jackets or cardigans; one coat; shoes. When you have three suitable bottoms and six tops that go with them all, you already have 18 outfits. Add in a jacket or cardigan and you double the number of outfits without buying any more clothes. This formula works for both men and women. It goes without saying that these should all be in colours and styles that are flattering for you.

Dress with authenticity

Individuals who feel comfortable showing their personality in some aspect of their dress, even if it may be perceived as quirky or odd, inherently feel more confident, distinguishable, and set apart from the crowd. When you feel like you’re dressing for someone else you undermine your confidence. Don’t allow yourself to feel like you’re playing a part in someone else’s movie. Ensure you look like “you” and not like “everyone else.”

Check the environment and understand the expected dress code

If you’re moving into a new environment, know what is expected. Find out from the HR team or your manager what the dress code is. It can be very awkward when you walk into an office or meeting and you are either overdressed or underdressed. Where there isn’t a documented dress code, observe and watch what those around you are doing.

Pay attention to the details

The details and accessories we wear, from lipstick and earrings to necklace, tie or cufflinks, all send out messages to our audience. They give us rank and elevate our look, not only adding to our own confidence but changing how we are perceived by those with whom we communicate. Where you know you’ll be presenting online or participating in online settings check your cameo area and ensure you have impact from the waist up. If in doubt, add one more accessory; a tie, a jacket, a necklace, a scarf.

If you feel confident in a certain colour, wear it!

The colours you wear are a huge consideration. Certain colours will be more flattering on you than others. In addition, wearing colour makes you feel a certain way. For example, red is perceived as a power colour. Athletes who wore red worked harder during a match than athletes who wore blue. The colour you wear can impact your level of self-confidence.

Neutral colours give gravitas, impact colours (reds, pinks, yellows, purples) will keep you visible. When you have a colour analysis, you’ll understand whether your best neutrals are navy, brown, grey, beige, white, black or cream. Adding one impact colour will give you confidence and you will feel empowered. You will differentiate yourself from those around you. You will be seen, heard and valued.