How The Work Wardrobes Of These Five Women Has Changed This Year

2020 is the year of the #WFHFit.

Charlene Prempeh

by Natalie Hammond |
Updated on

Dressing for the 9-5 has changed in 2020. As many of us said goodbye to our daily commutes and business flights, or turned our kitchens into work studios, the way we styled out our jobs changed and became more relaxed. So what does power dressing look like now? We invited five women – each a trailblazer in her chosen career – to try on the new BOSS collection and discuss what lasting effects this year will have on their approach to workwear.

Yvonne Bajela, founder and principal at Impact X Capital Partners LLP

Yvonne Bajela
Yvonne Bajela ©Georgia Devey Smith

Yvonne Bajela, venture capitalist and board member, used to spend a lot of time rushing between meetings, usually wearing polished tailoring and comfortable block heels. This year, she’s discovered a whole new facet to her work wardrobe: loungewear. ‘For the first time ever, I’ve adopted a more relaxed style,’ she says. This doesn’t mean, however, that she’s reverted to a student uniform. ‘Even though it’s more of a relaxed look, I still make effort. Before Covid, I would typically take an hour and a half to get ready. I know it seems like a long time, but my morning routine would be to jump in the shower, pick out my outfit for the day, do my make-up. Now, it takes me about 45 minutes. I still get dressed up, but just in my loungewear.’ To Yvonne, power dressing (the phrase that usually conjures up visuals of boxy suiting and padded shoulders) means a particular article of clothing – ‘You’ll always catch me in a blazer, I have a whole wardrobe full of blazers’ – and style of shoe (‘I have every single heel you could imagine!’). But the latter has also changed since coronavirus. ‘You would never ever catch me in trainers before, only if I was going to the gym, but I’ve found myself buying more trainers as a result of the pandemic. I’m wearing more loungewear and, if I’m popping to the shops, they’re just convenient.’ Her new way of dressing does, however, come with a caveat. ‘I will probably still dress up with my blazer!’

Dress, £299, BOSS

Cassie Beadle, curator at The Cob Gallery

Cassie Beadle
Cassie Beadle ©Georgia Devey Smith

They say life mirrors art, but for Cassie Beadle, curator at The Cob Gallery, it’s not a bad analogy when it comes to getting dressed for work. ‘Clothes are a huge part of my life. I’ve been collecting them for a long time,’ she says. ‘I wouldn’t say the demands of the job [necessitate] that, but I like to feel that our personal style here is an extension of the artwork we celebrate and the artists we look after.’ As a firm believer in the ritual of dressing up, Cassie credits her mother, a fastidious dresser and former fashion model, as a big influence. ‘My mum is so glamorous, always has been, and puts so much care into her image.’ Perhaps that’s why, even during lockdown and a phase of working from home, Cassie never rushes the process of getting dressed, often taking the colour of her lipstick, her hairstyle or her shoes as the starting point. ‘That’s definite “me time”. I hate being rushed to get ready,’ she says. While her typical work outfit sounds quite standard – wide-leg trousers, either a shirt or jumper and heels (always heels) – you can tell from the way she talks about the clothes that the end result is more than the sum of its parts. ‘I worked at Vivienne Westwood for a really long time. I like that kind of punk-glamour. I like it when clothes look like they’re falling off you. I’ve always really enjoyed the journey of a brand as well. When they get very large, I’m always a bit put off. I don’t like the massness,’ she says. Her approach to job interview dressing, an often fraught process in the realm of work wardrobes, says it all. ‘For one interview, I wore this Dolce & Gabbana skirt. It’s like two triangles sewn at the sides, so when you wear it, it’s sort of static. Then I had a vintage blazer that I had tailored. I felt very good that day.’

Cardigan, £179, and necklace, £119, both BOSS. Shirt, Cassie’s own

Charlene Prempreh, founder of A Vibe Called Tech

Charlene Prempeh
Charlene Prempeh ©Georgia Devey Smith

For Charlene Prempreh, the clothes we wear for work can bring people together. She gravitates towards structured pieces and believes that, as well as breaking the ice in meetings, complimenting someone else’s outfit is an important ritual of office life. It’s those precious ‘water cooler moments’, as she calls them, that can’t quite be replicated over Zoom. ‘Those compliments – people can see them as being vacuous, but actually the joy they bring the complimenter and the person being complimented is really nourishing,’ she says. ‘Clothes are very much the part of that ecosystem of how we care for each other in the workspace.’

As someone who has multiple work hats – working on public engagement around the effects of technology on the Black community, consulting for brands about diversity (in particular, diversity in marketing) and running her creative agency – Charlene used to subtly tweak her outfits depending on which hat she was wearing. ‘If I’m consulting for Frieze, I’ll wear whatever reflects my emotion on that day, from really casual to a massively over-the-top ruffle situation,’ she says. When she’s representing her own agency, she likes to wear clothes from Black designers, such as Olubiyi Thomas, Bianca Saunders and Martine Rose. ‘The agency is all about Black creativity and Black storytelling. Where possible, I like to communicate that in my clothes.’ And when things return to a more normal state, Charlene says there’s one big difference to how she’ll approach workwear. ‘Before this happened, every day had to be a brand new outfit from scratch, everything would start from ground zero every morning. What I’ve explored more since lockdown is how to make a subtle difference to an outfit. I’ll definitely take that into post-lockdown, just being a bit more experimental with accessories or adding layers rather than thinking, “I need to wear something brand new each time.’’’

Jumper, £159, trousers, £575, and boots, £449, all BOSS

Erchen Chang, food art director at BAO

Erchen Chang
Erchen Chang ©Georgia Devey Smith

Erchen Chang, food art director at cult restaurant BAO, no longer wears a chef ’s uniform for work. As the person who, rather fascinatingly, oversees the restaurant’s food and its visuals – from planting the seed of individual dishes, to events, to new concepts (as soon as possible post- lockdown, BAO is opening a café at King’s Cross) – her day-to-day life has shifted from being kitchen-based almost all the time to remote working coupled with in-person tastings with her chefs.

Her wardrobe, however, still reflects the environment she’s so used to. Her favourite trousers, for example, are a wide-leg, ankle- length style from Toogood. ‘All their clothing is inspired by different professions,’ she explains. ‘The trousers are called “the baker trouser”. I bought them, wore them several times, and on the tenth wash noticed it said “baker”. I was like, that’s cool, I literally do that.’ Her favourite shirt, a tie-collar style, is a kind of throwback to the traditional uniforms of old-school chefs. ‘One day, I went for a tasting, and my chef was joking like, “Oh, you look like a French patisserie chef.” I’ll take it as a compliment,’ she laughs – and she swears by thick-soled non-slip shoes, a lifelong habit thanks to slippery kitchen floors.

This year has made Erchen appreciate the opportunity to pause and put some thought into her clothes. ‘Before lockdown, every day my brain was running and running. Now, there’s a bit of time to slow down, you kind of appreciate the fact that, if I’m looking great every day, people around me will enjoy it. And I enjoy it a lot more as well. It really makes a difference.’ Perhaps she will finally have the breathing space to explore the two sides of her dream work wardrobe. ‘Whenever I look at Simone Rocha, I’m in heaven, it’s so beautiful. I wish I could dress like that to work sometimes. At the opposite end, I would love to dress like Michael Jordan in his grey suit. It’s so cool. One day, I want to go to work like that.’ As long as she’s not in the danger zone. ‘If you’re wearing your favourite shirt, maybe don’t go deep into the kitchen, because someone’s hand might have a little bit of soy sauce!’

Blazer, £399, shirt, £219, and trousers, £199, all BOSS

Noëlla Coursaris Musunka, model and founder of Malaika

Noëlla Coursaris Musunka
Noëlla Coursaris Musunka ©Georgia Devey Smith

For Noëlla Coursaris Musunka – model, philanthropist and mother-of-two – 2020 has provided a rare opportunity to stop worrying about what she wears. ‘I have appreciated the break from being overly concerned with my appearance,’ she says. ‘Although I love fashion, it’s nice to be reminded that what I do – empowering a community, working with an incredible team and raising my children – is more important than how I look while doing it.’ That said, in the age of video calls, her wardrobe still has to be versatile. As the founder and president of Malaika, a non- profit organisation that runs a girls’ school in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, providing 370 pupils with access to education, healthcare and water, her schedule is built around calling donors, participating in panel talks and hosting webinars. ‘If I have a call with a donor, or if I have to do a presentation and panel talk, I need to feel ready, not only with my notes, but in the way I look,’ she says. ‘I have a lot of pieces from BOSS. I have a few shirts, dresses, suits. You need one or two nice suits that you mix and match with a smart shirt.’ To Noëlla, ‘power dressing’ means making a statement. ‘When I go to Congo, I’m in jeans and T-shirts, but sometimes I like to wear an outfit that makes me feel like I’m leading. It’s a statement about what I’m doing and who I am.’ But whatever she’s wearing, whether it’s tailoring or, her favourite, a jumpsuit, there’s something else essential. ‘You have to make a statement, not only with your clothes, but with your presence.'

Blazer, £399, turtleneck, £109, trousers, £179, and heels, £269, all BOSS


SHOP: Workwear Classics From Boss

BOSS, Formal Coat In Italian Virgin Wool With Cashmere, £3991 of 9

BOSS, Formal Coat In Italian Virgin Wool With Cashmere, £399

BOSS, Mock-Neck Sweater In Virgin Wool, £1392 of 9

BOSS, Mock-Neck Sweater In Virgin Wool, £139

BOSS, Regular-Fit Trousers In Traceable Merino Wool With Stretch, £1793 of 9

BOSS, Regular-Fit Trousers In Traceable Merino Wool With Stretch, £179

BOSS, Link-Chain Necklace In Gold-Effect Stainless Steel, £1194 of 9

BOSS, Link-Chain Necklace In Gold-Effect Stainless Steel, £119

BOSS, Roll-Neck Sweater In Mercerised Merino Wool, £1495 of 9

BOSS, Roll-Neck Sweater In Mercerised Merino Wool, £149

BOSS, Regular-Fit Trousers In Virgin-Wool Flannel With Stretch, £1696 of 9

BOSS, Regular-Fit Trousers In Virgin-Wool Flannel With Stretch, £169

BOSS, Lace-Up Ankle Boots In Lustrous Italian Leather, £2697 of 9

BOSS, Lace-Up Ankle Boots In Lustrous Italian Leather, £269

BOSS, Stretch-Jersey Maxi Dress With Asymmetric Hem, £2998 of 9

BOSS, Stretch-Jersey Maxi Dress With Asymmetric Hem, £299

BOSS, Low-Profile Trainers In Italian Leather With Monogram Panel, £1799 of 9

BOSS, Low-Profile Trainers In Italian Leather With Monogram Panel, £179

Photographer: Georgia Devey Smith

Stylist: Fenella Webb

Hair: Akiko Kawasaki

Make-up: Martina Lattanzi

Fashion assistant: Tim Brooks

Photo assistants: Terry Graham and Conor Clarke

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