The relaxation of workplace dress codes occurred even before the pandemic. However now the shift has spread to most industries and overly formal attire seems completely out of place and, dare I say it, out of date.
The upside of this is that it gives you greater flexibility over what you wear and the ability to let your personality shine through. The downside is that you have more decisions to make, like what to wear and how to put it together, which can be overwhelming given the amount of choice on the high street.
Why looking professional matters even in a smart casual dress code
Maintaining a professional appearance is important especially if you are in a senior role. It’s a tricky area to navigate as wearing a formal suit when the rest of the team are in jeans and t-shirts will make you look ‘stuffy’ and out of touch. On the other hand, unless it comes naturally to you, wearing joggers and a hoodie is not likely to project the image of a team leader.
What you wear matters as it not only affects how you think, feel and act it also impacts how your friends and colleagues treat you. There is actually a name for it and it’s called ‘Enclothed Cognition’ which is defined as the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes . So you really can put on your power or choose not too.
To help you find the right balance, here are 5 of my tried and tested tips to look professional when the dress code is relaxed:-
1. Understand what your relaxed corporate dress code is
Business casual, ‘dress-for-the-day’ and ‘high-low dressing’ all come under the smart casual umbrella. The clue is really in the name but how smart and how casual you dress depends on the image you would like to project. If you’re looking for promotion, take a steer from your senior colleagues. If they dress on the smart side of casual then you should do the same. If you would like to be taken more seriously then ditch the Mickey Mouse sweatshirt. I’m exaggerating but you get the gist! You are in control of your message so give some thought and planning to what you’re saying and your future goals.
2. Mix smart pieces with casual items
Ensure that at least one of the garments in your outfit looks smart.You can then mix this item with casual pieces and still look professional. Useful combinations include wearing a blazer or smart blouse with jeans, tailored trousers with a sweater and a long dress with trainers. Don’t forget about accessories when you need to elevate an outfit. I have a client who keeps a printed square scarf and lipstick in a drawer in case she is called into a senior meeting. See below for more tips on what to wear.
3. Make the right casual choices
Casual garments you wear to the office should not look scruffy. Avoid jeans with rips or large ‘worn’ patches, washed out t-shirts and jumpers that have lost their shape or have lots of bobbling. Instead, choose jeans that have structure with minimal signs of distress (see below), t-shirts that look crisp and jumpers that are still in the shape they were intended to be!
4. Don’t take a relaxed approach to grooming
It’s very tempting to overlook this especially when working in a very casual office. We tend to show more respect to our smart clothes than our casual ones. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to jeans that need ironing, mud on trainers and grease marks on jumpers. This extends to your personal grooming too. You don’t need to have a salon blow dry and full face of make-up but always ensure hair and nails are clean and tidy. Footwear should also be clean, polished and well maintained so make friends with your local cobbler!
5. It’s not just about the clothes
I mentioned previously that there is concrete scientific evidence that shows how the clothes we wear hav effect our mood and body language. You are more likely to exude confidence if you are wearing clothes that you love and that align with your personal style. If you’re stuck in a rut with your style, create a mood board and use this as inspiration. Don’t ever wear something you feel you ‘should’ wear but that doesn’t feel like ‘you’ as this will have a negative effect on your mood.
Here are 5 key items you need to look professional and senior in a relaxed work environment.
The statement easy wear blouse – & Other Stories
Choose a colour, print or pattern that aligns with your personal style and ensure it’s a fabric that you find comfortable to wear. Wear it with jeans for a casual look or tailored trousers and skirts for a smarter look
A tailored blazer – Zara
There are a huge amount of blazer shapes around so take time to find the right one for your figure. Be wary of double breasted styles if you have a large bust or hips as it can make you look wider. The jacket length should never finish at the widest part of your hips for the same reason. Choose a quality piece at the top end of your budget so it is built to last.
A crisp t-shirt – Cos
Choose a structured fabric or heavyweight cotton as they retain their shape and look great even when worn all day. There are a lot of clingy jersey t-shirts out there made out of thin fabric which should be avoided at all costs. Round neck styles work well on ‘Pear shapes’ and those with a smaller bust. If you have a large bust a boat neck or v-neck is far more flattering.
Smart minimal wash jeans – Me & Em
Dark indigo jeans have not been processed to look aged so the denim is crisper and there is no fading on the garments. Not only does the denim look smarter, it retains its shape better so the jeans won’t look sloppy even if worn all day. Denim fabric will age over time though. To keep your jeans looking good only wash them when you really need to. They do not need to be washed after every wear. Always wash them at a cool temperature and turn them inside out to minimise the fabric fading.
Wide leg trousers – Cos
Wide leg trousers are making a comeback which is great news as they suit all body shapes.They look just as good with trainers as they do with boots and heels so they are useful for dressing up and down. A style with a high Wool content will keep you warm in winter and switch to linen or cotton in the summer to keep you cool. Read this article for tips on wide leg trousers for Spring.
Join my style subscription
Get all the latest style news, advice on what to buy, outfit tips, exclusive subscriber offers and lots more! You’ll also receive my style blog and online class bookings before everyone else. Simply sign up here for your FREE monthly copy of The Queen Bee Style blog!
Love to dress with more style and confidence?
Get my top 10 tips and discover how to transform your style - and dress with confidence. Sign up now for your free copy.