The Hardest Part About Going Back Into the Office Is Deciding What to Wear

how to get dressed for hybrid work universal
Dasha Burobina

It’s official: I’m back to a hybrid work schedule after years of full-time work from home (a privilege, I know). But it’s interesting—the main challenge I’m facing isn’t the return to routine (a commute, in-person meetings, what to pack for lunch), it’s actually far more superficial. I can’t decide what to wear.

An example: Ahead of a recent trip into the city (how I refer to my subway commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan), I hemmed and hawed in front of my closet the night before. I laid out a shirt. Then paused to steam the shirt. No, maybe I’d don a dress. And what about accessories? Should I add a cute boot? I tried everything on including my coat.

This was a dramatic shift from my pre-pandemic routine where aside from a big meeting day, I basically wore jeans and fashion-y sweatshirts to the office. (Think something from Clare V.) Yes, my company’s dress code prioritized casual and comfortable, but the return to work came with added pressure: If my colleagues get to see me in person once, maybe twice a week, shouldn’t I dress to impress? Wow them with my non-virtual polish, something that’s lost via dimly lit Zooms?

I asked other women how hybrid work has impacted their personal style. Guiliana, a Canada-based government project manager, says her two-day in-office routine has her in full Working Girl mode. “I spend at least ten minutes pre-planning outfits because I only have a couple of chances a week to see my co-workers and it makes going into the office more fun,” she explains.

Leslie, an editor in New York City who commutes three days a week, says she’s gotten more strategic about how she dresses. “I’m constantly calculating who will be at work that day—if I know the office is going to be empty, then it’s lululemon leggings for me and no makeup. On days when the office is set to be more full, I put in a ton of effort. There’s no middle ground.” Leslie also said hybrid work is placing added scrutiny on her closet. “I’m much more conscious of the holes in my wardrobe. I never have the right work blouses. The right dresses. The right pants. The whole process of getting ready takes me a lot more time.”

On the flip side, hybrid work has inspired others to streamline their style in a way they never did before. Kourtney, who owns her own PR firm in Brooklyn, says that she’s developed a clear work uniform that allows her to prioritize style, but get dressed quickly for her hybrid role. “A menswear-style button-down, nice jeans, my Rothy’s or heeled booties—that’s it, I’m out the door,” she says. “I care about my appearance, but I also care more about my time.”

There’s also those who say the pandemic led them to put less effort in. Mara, who works in brand marketing in New York, says that the pandemic brought her to get rid of her heels. “I still dress professionally and look put together for the three days a week I go in, but it’s a totally different vibe than when I was going into the office five days a week,” she says. “I think virtual meetings and working from home allowed us all to present ourselves differently in a corporate environment. It’s freeing.” (She adds that getting dressed still feels daunting because working from home has led her to have less of a pulse on current fashion.)

Back to my own routine and why I’m putting so much pressure on a single outfit choice. It’s not just about looking presentable for others; it’s about channeling confidence for myself.

After all, the loss of my commute back in March 2020 meant blurring the boundaries between professional and personal and inviting colleagues into the casualness—and chaos—of my home style and routine. Yes, I took the time to put on a smart blouse for a virtual meeting, but the fact that there’s an errant sock that fell out of the laundry pile fully visible in the corner? Professional cover = blown.

Also, FWIW, fashion is fun. Guiliana hit on a great point that relates to this. She has a lot of clothes from what was previously a five-day-a-week in-office job that are ready to see the light of day again. In other words, there’s less sartorial burnout around getting dressed for work. It feels creative and intentional, no matter what you wear.

If you need me, I’ll be laying out my outfit for next Thursday at the office.

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Rachel Bowie

Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...
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