Thursday, May 6

Am I Still Expected to Wear a Blazer to Work? Your 2021 Office Attire Questions Answered



As more Covid-19 vaccines are being distributed, the reality of getting dressed for re-entry into the world is on our collective minds.

Will our “real” clothes still work or is it time to shop?

In 2020, I was helping my styling clients create Zoom capsule wardrobes to maintain a sense of executive presence while working virtually and supporting their teams. As the year progressed, screen fatigue set in and fractured dressing became the norm; flattering tops visible by camera paired with sweatpants off-screen. Now as we eye returning to the office, some people are excited to dress up and update their wear-to-work wardrobes while others hope elastic waists never go out of style.

Keep in mind, the evolution of what we wear to work often reflects global trends. In the early 2000s, Casual Fridays were a reaction to a rise in Silicon Valley dress culture of hoodies and jeans. It took years for the rest of the country to adopt a five-day-a-week business casual dress code and, even then, some of the most conservative industries such as banking, politics, and law never truly embraced a dress-down culture.

That said, here are a few predictions and suggestions for what to expect of your (and your co-workers’) wardrobe as you return to your workplace.

Get Ready for Elevated Casual

I believe post-pandemic dressing will accelerate a new category and give rise to ‘elevated casual’ in companies as some continue to lead from home and others choose to go into offices. Not to be confused with standard casual, athleisure or loungewear, elevated casual will be a worthy investment category of dress and will become the new business casual of the 2020s.

Elevated causal is a hybrid of the traditional business casual dress code and a more casual, loungewear-inspired style of dress. Think monochromatic dressing and structured clothing paired with cozy-chic basics. Blazers for men and third pieces for women will be deconstructed (as in, no extra shoulder padding), fashion-forward (bold colors and fits), and fabrics will embrace the comfort needed to move from day to night.

My clients are seeking a sense of personal identity as they start stocking their closets for spring with pieces that signal optimism, strength, approachability, and fun. At the top of their what-to-wear-to-work lists in 2021: bold new glasses, patterned tops, updated pants (some that just pull on!), stackable jewelry, comfortable and stylish shoes.

Dress Codes Will Be Re-written

Professional presence remains important but priorities will shift into a personal sense of self and style as a tool to boost confidence. Moving forward, we’ll need clarity from companies on dress code expectations both virtually and in-person. Business formal will continue to be a dress code in traditional industries: government and political attire is a perfect example of a mode of dress that has not slackened due to the pandemic.

However, on internal-facing days, even our civil servants and politicians have questions on parameters of dress and some dress codes may allow for some slack. Men might not need a jacket and tie and women may forego heels and clingy sheath dresses. We are all excited to some degree to “show up” again, but many may be too drained post-pandemic to maintain our enthusiasm for it long-term.

Relaxing and rewriting dress codes to reflect the times is important and founders can survey their teams when considering the right guidelines for your own workplace. Keep in mind the image expected from your clients, investors, and public and don’t lose sight of the factors influencing your professional (yet comfortable) style choices.​

It’ll Be a Slow Return

We are ready to be seen again and emerge from the pandemic. While some may crave a ‘roaring twenties’ dress-up culture, the reality is that most will need baby steps for successful and stylish re-entry into a conference room.

It is time to rediscover our reasons to get dressed. Customization will have a new place in our style identities and we will decide if dressing up happens twice a week for office visits or once again becomes sustainable for the entire work week.

Either way, freshen up your mask selection and be sure to add mask chains (a unisex necklace to help keep your mask handy) to your shopping list.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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