Back to work fashion: How to take home comfort back to the office – with style

New Zealanders are slowly returning to the office, but with the bulk of the last two years spent working from home, the wardrobe has been a bit more bedroom than boardroom.

So what do you wear to a workplace that has been irrevocably changed by the pandemic?

Fashion editors overseas have reported the relaxed look from home has made its way to the office with workers not ready to replace comfort with corporate.

Reporter Kirsty Wynn asks fashion adviser Mary Outram how to update the work wardrobe and nail the new “business casual” without breaking the bank.

How has the time spent working from home impacted work fashion?

During the pandemic we didn’t need to think about fashion. For many (although it sounds cliché) I think there will be a sense of “finding yourself again”. We’ve had the luxury of being at home in sweats and oversized tees with a cuddly pet sitting on our lap. Financially it’s been an easier option to actually not invest in ourselves and our appearance.

As we head back to our normal workplaces, we are most definitely going to be bringing with us an easier way of dressing. No longer will we just have ‘casual Fridays’, I genuinely think our entire week of outfits may feel a little more relaxed.

We want comfort but still need to remain appropriately polished for the work environment – plus a little slice of fabulous.

What do you think people will be wearing?

Obviously smart casual is in, with so many of us desk-bound we need to be able to actually sit comfortably in an outfit all day. We will see more relaxed fit styles that aren’t body-hugging. Think relaxed shirts, pullover knits, lots of sneakers, crisp cotton dresses that can be layered with tights or a coat as it gets colder. These styles will keep us looking sleek but also feeling happy and a slightly more relaxed mode.

It’s about holding onto that warming feeling we had at home while re-vamping the vibe upwards. We must be comfortable yet it’s important to still look polished and sharp.

Start off in neutrals, white, navy and black and then add on to conservative pieces with colour and accessories to show a bit more of your personality.

Add something easy like bright heels with jeans and a tee (casual chic, completely formalised with heels) or a hair scarf paired with an all black power suit.

For men it’s about that balance, a little bit formal with a touch of off-duty, to create daily looks that are somewhere in the middle.

A couple of jackets (one business, one in tweed or more casual tan) that can be mixed and matched with tidy trousers, shirts and even a plain T-shirt.

A light grey sweater, well-kept jeans and even a polo with leather shoes or good ​sneakers will offer versatility.

Why is getting the work wardrobe right so important right now?

In an odd way heading back to work after the pandemic reminds me very much of how things felt for the people here in Canterbury post the 2011 earthquake.

We lost the livelihood and glamour that the city brought us, it felt like people had lost the motivation for fashion.

We spent a lot more time in the suburbs or going to local bars in sneakers and jeans, rather than enjoying the glamour of a nightclub in our best heels and a killer look-at-me dress.

However it is important to feel good in our work wardrobes, as it will 100 per cent help your mindset when going back to a busier routine. If you feel good about yourself, it changes the way you feel.

Clothes and style are about creating that unstoppable feeling of self-confidence, self-love and they really do have the ability to change our entire mood.

So how do you create a wardrobe for the new hybrid work model?

If you’re sitting there in a pair of Lululemon tights and feeling like you don’t know quite where to start, do it simply with a list of some key pieces from my “refresh yourself” list.

You don’t need to go out and buy a whole new smart casual wardrobe for work, but you may need to update a few items.

Refresh yourself – Mary’s must-haves

Top of the list is a pair of soft full-length trousers. Have one in black and another colour – think stone, tan or something bright.

Look for relaxed and soft fabrics like polyester or an elastane blend (you won’t even realise that you’re no longer in track pants). I’ve found Zara the most affordable option to find variety and range with my work pants, most pairs averaging about $50.

Knitwear: Investing in soft fabrics or cashmere is a clean look.
You can wear knits on their own or layered over a shirt with your collar coming through. Glassons brings out a timeless $29.99 turtleneck every year – I have my eye on adding the chocolate brown shade this season.

A camel or neutral coloured trench is an absolute must have this season

An oversized blazer: If there is one thing to invest in that’s also trans-seasonal, it’s this piece.

A boyfriend shirt: wear this buttoned up, tucked in, under your knitwear or open with a singlet

A long sleeve knit dress

Over the knee boots (wear them with jeans, tights and straight cut trousers)

Relaxed denim jeans: blue jeans looks so great with a dark blazer, basic tee and heels or sneakers.

A selection of basic tops (always needed for layering)and sneakers – keep them clean and looked after.

A bold lipstick: I never leave the house without it. Don’t ever underestimate the power of good hair and fresh-faced makeup. Something as small as allocating 15 minutes extra in the morning to put effort into styling your hair and adding a bold lipstick to your look can really elevate things.

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