Throughout my professional career, I’ve never been a fan of dress codes. I find them a bit restrictive, and I don’t like telling staff what they can and can’t wear.
Rather than Casual Fridays, we should generally go for Casual Everyday. The only rules should be to keep it sensible. If you turn up to the office wearing a leopard-print bikini and flip flops, I’ll probably share my opinion. And shirts with offensive slogans won’t be welcome.
Now that most of us are working from home, expectations have changed. In the comfort of our own homes, we can wear what we want.
But should we? Or should we dress up for the occasion and keep things professional?
Dress to impress (yourself)
Away from a standard professional environment, all rules are forgotten. You’re in a sartorial no-man’s-land. What’s the dress code? Should you even wear clothes at all?
At home, you can work in your underpants, and nobody will ever know (apart from the people you live with). It’s comfortable, and the sense of freedom you get is a joy. And this counts for anything casual, whether it’s your pajamas, gym trousers or hoodie and jeans - it just feels good.
But feeling comfortable and energized for work don’t always go hand in hand. The problem with not getting dressed properly is that you don’t switch to a working mindset.
Think about your first impression when meeting someone new in a professional context. You’ll make a subconscious judgement based on their appearance (whether you admit it or not!) that’ll affect how you perceive their capabilities and character.
Say you’re meeting a marketing agency director to pitch you their services. If they turn up in jeans and an Iron Maiden t-shirt, you’d probably see them differently than if they wore a suit and tie.
Now, while working from home, that client is yourself in the mirror.
Balancing work and life
Most of us are thinking about work-life balance more than ever right now. Before, we at least had the physical differentiation between home and work. Our main struggle was relaxing when we got home without thinking about work or giving in to the temptation of looking at work emails.
Now, we’ve got to be more conscious than ever of shifting from work mode to rest mode. If you’re fortunate enough to have a dedicated home office, great - keep it sacred and separate, and don’t go in unless you’re willing to work.
But for those without, your outfit might be that all-important psychological barrier between work and home. If putting on your uniform becomes part of the ritual to get into the working mindset, why not keep it?
And you can do the same at the end of the day, too - taking off your work clothes and swapping to comfy threads can be part of your winding-down ritual, marking the end of your working day.
If you’ve never tried it, you might be surprised at how effective it becomes after a few days. The thought of quickly checking your work emails while wearing your non-work jumper will just feel wrong.
Broadcasting from home
There’s another significant reason to clothe yourself decently on home-working days - the video call.
There’s no universal agreement when presenting yourself digitally. Collectively we’re still figuring it out, as folks who are new to communicating remotely, work out what’s appropriate and what isn’t.
I don’t think it’s socially acceptable to video-call someone without warning. It’s like visiting someone’s house without calling first. We’ve all got the ability to text ahead of a visit to ask if someone’s available, so we should probably do the same for video calls.
But you still need to be prepared for last-minute client calls or emergency meetings, and you really don’t want to look like you’ve just crawled out of bed.
That means, at the very least, putting on your chosen work clothes and not taking the call from your bed or sofa.
It’s all about those first impressions again - wearing casual clothing can imply you’re not in a working mood, and colleagues might think you’re slacking off, even if you’re putting in a proper shift.
Your living space will be under scrutiny as well. If a client or colleague wants some face time, tidy up first, or at least point the camera away from the pile of clothes on the floor!
If you’re prepping for a Zoom or Hangout call, there are a few other things to keep in mind:
- Make sure you’re well-lit, with a window or light source in front of you but behind the camera
- Raise your laptop on a few books or magazines, so it’s level with your face, no one wants to look directly up your nostrils
- Keep things quiet - pets and children need to be in a different room and mute your microphone when you’re not talking
Some adventurous souls have admitted to bringing compromise to their video calls by dressing smart on their top halves, and casual below the waist. The thinking is your upper section is the one on show during your Zoom meetings - which makes sense.
If you want to try this, be careful - if you absent-mindedly stand up to get a drink or open a window, you risk exposing the group to your polka-dot boxer shorts. And no matter how casual you are, that’ll derail any meeting for good.
So, whether you normally work in formal attire or casual dress, you still have to feel professional at home.
Just make sure whatever you’re wearing is washed and ironed. No distracting slogans. Maybe not a full suit and tie, but something better than a scruffy t-shirt. Even if there’s no calls on today’s agenda, scrub up and get your good garms on.