Musings on how to do ‘relaxed workwear’ whilst maintaining professional gravitas..
It's not 'new news' that workplace culture has become more relaxed. Between flexible working from home and less time spent in the office coupled with our gradual exit from the pandemic-driven leisurewear trend, workwear has also relaxed its rules. But what does this mean for maintaining our professional impact?
I have been quite surprised to learn that in today’s woke world, gender and certainly appearance, play a significant role in how people are perceived at work despite their seniority and experience.
In traditional corporate environments where Suits were the standard every-day attire for Men pre-pandemic, these are now reserved for important face to face meetings only. Instead of suits, the new culture dictates 'shirt, no tie' or a jumper and maybe smart jeans for the office.
Many of my female clients working in male dominated environments such as Pharma and Finance shared with me that they would like to have more presence in a room and to command the respect that they deserve based on their experience however they often feel over-looked or perhaps seen as more junior than they are. Does dressing down play into this issue?
I am not in any way legitimising the idea that a person should be treated a certain way based on their visual messages (appearance) but since this seems to be happening anyway, I’m going to share my tips on how to appear as professionally capable as possible in a business-casual environment.
A person’s size or stature certainly contributes to the physical presence that they have a in a room or around a board table. A person who wants to increase their physical presence can use their choice of footwear to add height and use tailoring to give some definition and breadth to the shoulders. The question then is how to do this without looking too formal for the new workplace culture?
We’re aiming for a balance of looking relaxed whilst giving off the impression of being put together and organised, a seasoned professional and having confidence in one’s ability.
Let’s also not forget that the art of dressing well is to feel comfortable and authentic in what you are wearing whilst also feeling appropriate to your environment and audience. This means, don’t compromise on your personal brand and wear what you love.
Strong colour is a great way to take the formality out of tailoring and add some personality.
Some of my clients are nervous of wearing a blazer as they think it might make them look too formal. They are amazed to see that blazers can give gravitas to a look without making it look overly formal as long as the base layer is relaxed. There is no reason why smart jeans and a refined piece of knitwear can’t be worn underneath. Pairing a blazer with clean, crisp trainers, a blazer can work for a modern take on ‘business casual’. The amount of structure in a blazer also has a bearing on how formal it will look. A more relaxed fit will of course look more relaxed!
If a midi dress is more of your thing, then again, the right blazer will look brilliant over the top! You may need some height in your footwear to reduce heaviness in the proportions.
Shoes with height don’t have to be ‘formal’. A platform sneaker can look great with a tailored trouser or a heeled boot can look more relaxed than a court shoe.
A jumpsuit with a tailored top half hits the jackpot as it’s less formal by default yet the structured top gives authority to this look. Add a heel and you’re running the place!
Don’t rule out a suit as being too formal! Play with ideas such as a non-traditional colour or wearing it with trainers and a T shirt if your dress code allows.
Similarly, you may assume that tailored trousers and a blouse will look too corporate but going for a high waisted, wide leg trouser with pleat front for added slouchiness will soften the look. Pair with a blouse in a satin fabric or beautiful print takes you from desk to boardroom, just switch the flats to heels.
A skirt, T-shirt and leather jacket combination can be easily be converted to a skirt and blazer look.
The bottom line is, you should be able to have fun with your look, dress as your authentic self and have some pieces in your closet that work as your boardroom armour!