How The Hell To Cope If You Have To Wear Office Clothes To Work Every Single Day

Because shift dresses and pencil skirts test our patience


by Charlie Byrne |
Published on

‘I never ever wear my work clothes at the weekend - it would feel like wearing school uniform on a Sunday,’ my mate Lisa, 26, a lawyer in a big city firm told me over me over a coffee. ‘It does make it easier to get ready in the mornings because it doesn’t require as much thought, but there’s nothing worse than when you’re working late and wanting to slouch, and you’re wearing a tight dress - it's super uncomfy.’

It's a problem I've never had. Working in fashion, even if you love it, can be bloody irritating. But every morning, when I’m stuffed into a tin-can tube, and I’m being engulfed by pencil skirts, navy blue blazers and sensible shoes, which you can tell have been trotted out a million times in the same re-hashed combinations, I’m damn grateful that I can just as easily show up to work in sequinned jeans and trainers as I could in a floor length skirt or knee high boots. Or a jumpsuit. Or a play suit. Basically anything but a normal, boring skirt suit. If it’s cold, I wear warm things, if it’s hot, I can get pretty much as naked as I fancy. Which means that my weekend clothes and my work clothes are one in the same - unlike most of my mates, who deal with the daily battle of managing two wardrobes, and what it’s like to have to be old-school ‘smart’ every day in the office.

It also means having two entirely separate people in your closet. ‘Sometimes it’s weird when you are looking in your wardrobe and realise you have 'nothing' to wear on the weekends,’ says Amy, 24, a legal assistant. ‘I also have a really long commute, which makes dressing for work even harder - when I get up it is nearly always freezing which means I just want to wear cosy jumpers and warm trousers so it is hard to pull on 'smart' clothes when I can see warmer options in the wardrobe.’

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And it’s not just changeable weather that wreaks havoc on your outfit planning. ‘One of the hardest parts about wearing smart clothes to work is if you have an informal evening event planned and you have to try to pick an outfit that goes from day to night,’ explains Verity, 26, who works on the trade floor of a major investment bank.

Most of the girls I speak to seem to do the rounds of the same shops: The Outnet, Zara, Massimo Dutti, Banana Republic, J Crew, Marks & Spencer, ASOS, Hobbs, and Uniqlo. But they are effectively having to spend their cash on clothes they’re generally not all that keen on. ‘Cost per wear on my work clothes probably comes out very well, but it makes my casual clothes less value for money if I’m only wearing them twice a week,’ says Claire, 29, another solicitor in the city.

‘It can be very expensive having a good work wardrobe, good tailoring is pricey, and it does need to be refreshed every so often. It’s also not just your clothes - your makeup and hair both need to be smart, and I hate the fact that I spend an absolute fortune on tights!’ says Silvana, 29, who works in finance. ‘And don’t even get me started on the cost of dry cleaning it all...’

When you hear all of this, you wonder why we haven’t all staged a pencil skirt related coup. But it turns out, despite the practical pain in the ass parts about still having a uniform in your twenties, the girls I spoke to wouldn’t have it any other way.

‘Being well dressed is important working in finance as if you don't take care of yourself people will wonder how you look after them as clients,’ says Silvana. ‘And it's always nice when the CEO compliments a dress I wear - I think being well dressed and having posture gives me confidence - particularly when surrounded by much more senior people.’ I’m almost convinced that there’s something to this smart dressing thing.

‘I don’t find it difficult because it’s what I have always done, and it also reflects how I divide my time. It is no more odd than not going to the office at the weekend or the difference between how you act professionally and at home,’ agrees Claire. Allison, a 26 year old PA, has even tried my freestyle living and wouldn’t go back. ‘I used to work in an office which had “dress down Friday” every week and I seemed to struggle more deciding what to wear - I actually enjoy looking smart,’ she says.

But how do you actually do it well, without being bored out of your skull or bankrupting yourself?

Buy Basic Basics

Don’t underestimate the power of basic Uniqlo tops under suits, and don’t overlook high street tailoring - premium pieces at the likes of H&M can be passed off as much more sophisticated than they are, but you have to keep an eye out for the well-cut pieces made out of decent quality fabrics.

**Venture Further Afield **

It’s also worth setting aside some quality time (ie. your precious weekend) once in a while to go shopping away from the office. If you keep popping into local stores in business focused areas, you’re only ever going to see the extremely business-like stock - go further afield to find more imaginative options.

Do Dresses

Dresses are an easy option because they're a whole outfit in one zip-up and you're done item, plus you can add thick tights when it's cold, and my girls swear by wrap-over styles because they're the comfiest. It's also worth buying some multi-tasking blazers that you might fancy wearing over a white T shirt and your boyfriend jeans at the weekend, and a decent pair of stylish flat shoes - because sometimes you have to give in to the fact that you're not super human and wearing heels for 14 hours a day every day just isn't worth it when there are so many kick-ass flats about.

Find Subtly Different Stuff

You also don’t have to get that whacky with your styling to seem just a little bit different - pick a court shoe with an unusual trim, or a trench coat with a fluro lining, or a double breasted blazer that looks like it was designed with more than the office in mind. You can beat the man while playing his game - it just takes a little imagination.

Printed dress, £99.50, Banana Republic, jacket, £265, Reiss, waistcoat, £250, Karen Millen, skirt, £69, COS, court shoes, £29.99, Zara, jacket and trousers, £49.99 and £39.99, H&M

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Follow Charlie on Twitter @Charliebyrne406

Picture: Hulton Archive

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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