Casual essentials to create your work wardrobe whatever your budget

When Casey Schow started his new job at Neighbor, a Lehi, Utah-based self-storage company, he figured he had to dress to impress.

It was hard to ditch the sweatpants he had grown accustomed to wearing the previous two months while working from home during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, but he wanted to make a good first impression on his colleagues .

Schow picked out a crisp button and pair of pants for his first day in the office as Neighbor’s PR and communications manager in June 2021.

Imagine his surprise, then, when Schow walked into the office and half his colleagues were wearing T-shirts and flip flops.

“It quickly dawned on me that no one really cares what you wear to the office, as long as you do the best job you can,” Schow, 31, told CNBC Make It. “I definitely felt overdressed, even though this outfit is something I would have worn to work every day before the pandemic.”

Schow is one of countless Americans returning to the office to find that dress codes have changed – a confusing transition that has prompted some companies to offer more relaxed guidelines on what employees can wear to the office and many fashion questions that left people scratching their heads.

Revamping your professional wardrobe can add up, but you can prepare to head back to the office without spending too much by investing in a few key pieces that will help you achieve the “professional comfort” look.

1. Neutral T-shirts

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An opaque, fitted t-shirt is the perfect basic for the office: it can be dressed up with tailored trousers or dressed down with jeans, depending on the occasion. Shannon Fitzgerald, director of human resources at The Muse, recommends t-shirts with wrinkle-resistant fabrics like wool, nylon and spandex. The right t-shirt has the power to make life “so much easier”, she adds, as long as it’s “cheap, versatile and doesn’t need to be ironed every week”.

2. Low top sneakers

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Commuters are ditching their heels and dress shoes in favor of more comfortable workwear, including low-top sneakers. The best office sneakers have no holes, minimal scuffs, and avoid crazy colors or patterns, Fitzgerald says, and will go with just about anything in your closet. Schow’s office attire includes a crew-neck shirt, tapered sweatpants and cream-colored tennis shoes – a comfortable outfit that he says helps him focus on his work and go smoothly from work to work. office to after work activities.

Casey Schow in her work outfit.

Photo: Casey Schow

3. An oversized blazer

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An oversized blazer is the unsung hero of any work wardrobe: it retains its structured, polished look even after many uses and can elevate your outfit in any season. Jacksonville, Florida-based career coach Letisha Bereola loves pairing a baggy blazer with a short-sleeved blouse, jeans, or maxi skirt. “It’s a great way to mix the casual with the professional,” she says. Fitzgerald recommends men pair their blazer with a crew neck t-shirt and khakis or straight jeans for the office.

4. A durable backpack

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Fitzgerald recently changed the briefcase she carried to the office every day before the pandemic for a sleek black backpack with lots of pockets and shoulder padding – a decision, she jokes, that was “life changing “. “It’s a more functional office bag… my shoulders don’t hurt anymore and it makes traveling so much easier,” she says. She encourages others to make the switch, noting that there is a range of stylish work backpacks on the market under $25 that are machine washable and can fit more than a tote bag or briefcase. traditional.

If you’re looking for inspiration, Bereola suggests checking out what mainstream workwear brands, like J. Crew and Banana Republic, are advertising on their websites, or searching for hashtags like “#businesscasual ” and “#workoutfits” on TikTok, Pinterest and Instagram. to see what others are wearing to the office.

Ultimately, when building a back-to-office wardrobe, the goal should be to have comfortable clothes that make you look good and feel confident. “There’s already a lot of stress and anxiety associated with returning to the office,” Fitzgerald says. “But if you feel good about how you present yourself, you’re unstoppable.”


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