Since the pandemic in 2019, work places have changed: we have also seen great shifts in what is acceptable workwear since then which leaves many of us confused as to what is appropriate.
Some sectors have simply gone back to their old ways and still have a formal business dress code, but many workplaces, seeing the formal business wear as a little stuffy and old fashioned, have relaxed their dress code as a sign of modernity.
In some sectors, there is a uniform or partial uniform which obviously removes the guessing game of “what should I wear” every day. We won’t cover workwear for these sectors in this article, but the idea of creating your own personalized work uniform is something I would recommend when you start out building (or rebuilding) your workwear wardrobe.
Corporate Office Environment (suitable for legal, finance, tax, accounting sectors)
Business formal dress code, also known as professional or corporate formal attire, is a dress code typically adopted in professional and formal work environments. It emphasizes a high level of professionalism, professionalism, and conservative attire.
**Trouser Suit or Skirt Suit**: A well-tailored trouser suit or skirt suit in black, navy, or charcoal gray.
**Blouse**: A conservative, blouse or a tailored dress shirt.
**Blazer**: A matching blazer that complements the suit or separates.
**Dress**: A knee-length or longer tailored dress in a neutral colour.
**Closed-toe Heels**: Low to moderate heels in black, brown, or navy.
**Hosiery**: Nude or sheer stockings or tights.
**Accessories**: Minimalistic jewellery, such as stud earrings and a wristwatch.
**Grooming**: Neatly styled hair, understated makeup, and well-manicured nails.
While the business formal code is necessary for certain professions, you may feel that you’re unable to express yourself fully which will make you feel frustrated.
· In a formal business environment, there isn’t much room to maneuver with your outfit choices, but you can make things more interesting by varying the fabrics you wear.
· If you typically wear a matching suit for example, could you consider wearing the items separately? E.g. the blazer with a dress, or the trousers with a different blazer or jacket? Instead of a blazer in a smooth & structured fabric, how about a tweed?
· Instead of a cotton shirt, could you wear a silk blouse with a pussy bow detail?
· Instead of wearing colour in contrast (e.g. black and white), could you wear your colours tonally, i.e. dark navy blue, sapphire blue and sky blue?
· What about your accessories? Do you wear a belt? Earrings, necklace? Instead of wearing something too classic like a pair of stud pearl earrings, could you find a pair of pearl earrings with gold hoops for example? Instead of a plain black leather handbag, could you find a faux-crocodile print black bag?
· Could you experiment with different shoes for example? Loafers with an equestrian buckle are super chic, and are more interesting than a plain black loafer. If you’re feeling brave and it is acceptable, what about a patterned shoe?
Smart Casual Office Environment (suitable for modern office, small business, entrepreneur)
Business casual allows for a more relaxed and comfortable style while maintaining a professional appearance.
**Tops*:* Blouses, button-down shirts, jumpers, or knit tops are appropriate. Necklines should be modest.
**Bottoms**: trousers, knee-length skirts, or tailored dresses are common choices. Avoid overly casual materials like denim or shorts.
**Footwear**: Closed-toe shoes such as flats, loafers, pumps, or low-heeled boots work well.
**Jackets/Cardigans**: Blazers, cardigans, or lightweight jackets can be added for extra layers and style.
In a casual business environment, it can be difficult to understand where the line is between “business” and “casual”, which will often be determined on a case by case basis depending on your employer. Make sure you understand if there is a dress code and what is or isn’t considered business casual. Some work environments do not accept denim whereas others do.
· In a business casual environment, it will be much easier for you to experiment with colour. I suggest you start by adding in colourful accessories to your neutral outfits, swapping in a colourful top instead of a neutral one, or even going for a colourful blazer for a pop of colour.
· If you can wear jeans, I recommend that you stick to dark wash denim which by nature appear more professional than lighter wash.
· Instead of plain shoes, opt for a patterned shoe which can elevate even the simplest of outfits.
· If you are going to wear trainers, make sure they are clean and presentable. White trainers look incredible with formal clothes like a trouser suit, or wide leg trousers with a blouse and waistcoat. Colourful trainers will also add a pop of colour to your outfit and if worn in an intentionally unconventional way, you may appear even more competent in your job (see “Red Sneakers Effect” HBR article).