About three weeks ago, one of my clients was interviewed by a reporter at The Atlantic for a story about dress codes in the workplace. I was thrilled at our opportunity to be included in the story. Dress code? Now that many are working from home what does that even mean now?
I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve worked from home on and off throughout my career. I made the transition during the dial-up internet era, when I began each workday twiddling my thumbs through a chorus of bings and bongs waiting to get online. When I started my virtual agency I made an agreement with myself to maintain “office hours,” which included following a daily schedule and sticking to a few self-imposed rules about what could get done during that time (no household chores and no novel-reading, for example). So when the world as we know it shifted in a matter of days, I was ready. Or so I thought.
One of my self-imposed rules required that I follow a dress code. I had a daily routine: put on makeup and dress in what was once called “casual Friday” outfits. No workout clothes or sweatpants during the workday for me. This was a practical decision. Most days, I’d have to head out for a meeting, a need-it-now media training, a quick brainstorm or networking lunch. Now that in-person meetings are on hold, I haven’t given up. Makeup helps me look good on Zoom, and I really like mascara, so during the first week of self-quarantine, I put on makeup every day and wore my work uniform of cashmere sweaters, skinny jeans and a fantastic pair of combat boots I picked up in Barcelona while I was teaching there in January (a century ago, it seems).
Then, I read about people who are dressing for work from the waist up, and wearing shorts or pajama bottoms from the waist down. Since we were all sent home to work, Walmart has been selling lots of shirts, not bottoms, apparently. I just can’t do that. I like whole outfits too much. But by week two, I noticed that my wardrobe had shifted stealthily. Pre COVID-19, I used to exercise early in the morning so I could arrive at my desk when everyone else did. But now that my colleagues have permission to take exercise breaks during the day — to walk their dogs, help their kids with algebra, meditate to take care of themselves — I’m scheduling my workouts at random hours, in between Zoom meetings and work deadlines. I’m, ugh, working in workout clothes, and not my best outfits, either. I’m reaching for my old standby black Lululemon leggings and not-so-flattering sports bras that I should have tossed last year. These outfits are not chic athleisure, and definitely not streetwear (that’s not my style jam); nevertheless, my new work wardrobe is an incentive to hop on my bike or my yoga mat and fit in a workout when I can. They work for me right now, keeping me sane during this scary, crazy time.
Naturally, we’re being encouraged to make the shift by fashion brands. In the weeks since we’ve been on lockdown, my social media feed has been filled with ads for comfy-wear from brands like Joie and Nili Lotan. Influencers like Danielle Bernstein and others are posing in sweats. A CEO client who has a fabulous wardrobe of business menswear has been wearing baseball caps and hoodies on our weekly Zoom calls. I miss the fashionable people’s take on “real” style. Fancy sweatpants aren’t aspirational to me. Others are finding their own route to workplace style. I was thrilled when novelist Curtis Sittenfeld wore her wedding dress to work from home, showing us all how it’s really done. I like the wedding dress idea better than being halfway dressed. And, now that I’m sitting here, looking at it closely, I really should toss that sports bra. Maybe tomorrow I’ll dig up a tiara and change my dress code, again.