I think I’m suffering from a case of fashion stubbornness: I just don’t like any of the office wear that is “in.” Since coming back to work, I’ve noticed that the way I dress has diverged quite a bit from the other women in my office. I much prefer the tailored styles of yore to the unstructured sweaters, ruffles and poufy sleeves that are everywhere. Are there ways to update my weekday uniform that don’t involve giving up my blazers, slim-fitting power dresses and skinny pants? — Anna, Branford, Conn.
The good news is that we are in a post-trend world, where pretty much anything goes: not just for denim, where skinny/boyfriend/faded/dark/flared jeans are all available at all times, but also for decades (’60s! ’70s! ’80s! ’90s!) and hemlines. Which are up, down and everywhere in between.
The big sweaters, ruffly blouses and oversize jackets you are seeing are essentially the public expressions of the comfort, Zoom and nap dressing that became popular during the pandemic. It’s a kind of bridge dressing as we move from home back to the workplace.
But odds are the tailored blazer and suit are about to make a comeback, judging from the recent Balenciaga show held at the New York Stock Exchange, which was heavy on the white collar-wear. Not to mention the variety of jackets visible even on the red carpet in Cannes.
All of which means that while there may be unspoken uniforms that reflect particular subcultures, especially office subcultures, that doesn’t mean that what you are wearing is not part of the wider picture.
Thus the question is less how do you update your wardrobe (your wardrobe is fully contemporary) than how do you balance fitting in with your colleagues — demonstrating your membership in the group, which is really what office dress codes are about — with feeling comfortable and effective (and authentic) as yourself? That confidence, wherever you find it, is simply the best look for work.
Still, reaching some sort of compromise should not be complicated. A neat jacket and narrow trousers looks great with a variety of T-shirts or detailed blouses, which can be left untucked for a slightly less uptight effect. Anne Fontaine built an entire business on iterations on the classic white shirt. They are very expensive but a great source of inspiration nonetheless.
Or try a mismatched blazer with your skinny pants, to move away from the matchy-matchiness of a suit, which can seem dated. Take the edge off a power dress without losing any of the punch by adding some costume jewelry or a scarf. And if you want to experiment without the commitment of buying, rotate pieces in and out from services like Rent the Runway until you find a sartorial equilibrium that seems right.
We’ve come a long way from the man in the gray flannel suit, but that doesn’t mean dressing for the office is any easier.