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What to wear for work in a more flexible post-pandemic work environment

By Fiona Frudd
What to wear for work in a more flexible post pandemic work environment

The pandemic has ended and we’re all settling into the new working norms that have evolved since the first instructions to ‘stay at home’.  Working from home became the standard for many and we all quickly became accustomed to no longer dressing with the public eye in mind.

A lot can happen in the world of fashion (and waistlines) in a 2-year period.  Sales of lounge and casual athleisure wear surged after March 2020 and continued for well over 18 months. However, things changed in February 2022 when Omicron restrictions eased; retailers noticed a rush to buy fashion clothing and footwear as people began making a return (albeit occasionally, rather than daily) to the office.  Some people fully-embraced a new, more relaxed version of themselves in their return to the office, giving away suits and shirts and ties to charity, which they felt no longer reflected the more ‘flexible’ attitude to work, whilst others had felt robbed of the opportunity to take their fashion seriously and express their personality during lockdown, the return to the office delivered a perfect opportunity to revive and revamp their personal style.  Many fashion brands seized upon this new sentiment, creating a whole new workwear genre that combines both comfort and formality, addressing the needs of both, and coined it ‘business comfort’.

What to wear to the office in a post-pandemic era?
Some industries and sectors traditionally demand a more formal appearance (Legal, Finance, Banking etc) and the overall feeling is that in these sectors, business wear is still smart, but has taken a more casual slant post-pandemic. It certainly seems that wearing a tie for work may have had its day!  According to a Partner at a prominent national legal firm, following the post-pandemic introduction of their fully-flexible work policy ‘Empowered Working’, there has been a correlated change in the way their people dress for work and business meetings. The advice is that colleagues ‘dress for their diary / client’, but fashion trainers, jeans and casual tops are not out of place at work or even for some client meetings nowadays.

Many businesses are embracing work-from-home fashion after 18+ months of webinars and virtual conferences, realising that employees can work perfectly effectively in more ‘relaxed’ clothing.  And with most hybrid workers only spending an average of 1.5 days per week in the office, this seems fair enough.

There are sectors that have always been more on the casual side, with hoodies and fashion trainers the norm (Tech, Design, Marketing, Advertising, Fashion) and in the post-pandemic return to the office, there hasn’t been a lot of change for these sectors.

The places that have seen the biggest shift are the ones that had a smart / casual dress code beforehand.  Generic office spaces where employees are non-client facing.  Where trainers may not have once been allowed; smart, clean fashion trainers (not sports shoes) are now deemed acceptable for work. However, ripped jeans are still considered somewhat of a no-no.

Head of Finance at a well-known national brewery business describes how their dress code policy was introduced a couple of years ago which enthusiastically encourages employees show their personality. “Here virtually anything goes (providing it’s not indecent) even for executive meetings”.

What to wear for a business meeting?
If you work in Design and the person you’re meeting works in Banking, it is mutually understood that you will likely both be dressed differently. And neither should have to compromise their uniform style if it reflects the work they do and their personality. 

For internal business meetings with colleagues, it seems that casual work wear is perfectly acceptable (including fashion trainers), while external business meetings often call for a slightly smarter vibe but can include smart jeans. (If you’re unsure, you can always call ahead and ask what the dress code is at the business you’re engaging with).

What to wear if working from home?
There is somewhat of a negative assumption that working from home means people lounge around all day in their pyjamas. As Louise Goss journalist and editor of The Homeworker magazine explains “dressing for work need not mean getting suited and booted, [but] getting out of the pjs is critical to that start-the-day and getting-down-to-work feeling.”   Getting dressed in your ‘work from home’ clothes helps to put you in the right frame of mind and provides a psychological shift to help you get into ‘work mode’.  From personal experience, I always like to be ready for a conference call, as you never know when someone might say ‘are you available for a quick Zoom’.  Clean clothes, a touch of makeup and even a little spritz of perfume help me to feel WFH ready.

What to wear for an interview in a post-pandemic era?
Interview dressing, it seems, is a whole separate ball game.  The feeling and advice from our recruitment consultants would still be to dress smartly for interviewing, as this is a sure-fire way to make a good first impression and demonstrates to a potential employer that you are taking the interview seriously and are keen on working for them.  Even if the role you’re interviewing for is, for example, a fully-remote / WFH position, the consensus amongst our Consultants is that you should definitely dress to impress in traditional interview attire, just as you would have done pre-pandemic.  It shows that you mean business and are credible in your area of expertise.

One of our consultants recalls an instance when a candidate wasn’t successful during an interview conducted over Zoom, as they were dressed too casually. Our advice would be that dressing smartly is a small price to pay to help secure the job. Even for a Zoom / video interview, interviewees should dress as smartly as you would for an in-person interview.  Post pandemic, we’ve seen a shift in the way interviews are conducted, first stage interviews tend to be video while second stage are usually conducted in person.

Celebrity stylist, Phill Tarling  ( an image consultant who has worked with Sony Music & BAFTA advises (in an article on “A sharp fitted suit is rarely out of fashion. There is a positive impact on the people around you when you dress like a boss, and it’s known to boost confidence and productivity … Putting on a suit is like putting on your armour and provides the confidence boost many need for that special event or meeting”.

To tie or not to tie?  Mark Keegan, Finance Director at IPE Ventures comments “I wouldn’t penalise anyone if they turned up [to an interview] without a tie, but I know plenty of people that do. As long as you’re smart and have made an effort that’s what counts”. 

So, it seems there’s disparity and a small shift in feelings towards the wearing of ties for interviews.  However, as it is not yet a universal status-quo, our advice, would be to wear a tie unless you’re absolutely certain it is not expected of you.

What to wear for Interviews in the Creative or Tech sector:
If you work in the creative / tech industries, it is, and has always been slightly different and there is an expectation that the way you dress represents your personal stye, creativity and the work you do.  In these sectors, people have always tended to dress more informally than traditional corporate professionals (this does not translate as a lack of professionalism however). So, you may want to skip the pin-stripe suit for something more business-comfortable, but keep in mind ‘comfortable’ still means clean, tidy, and in good condition! Worth mentioning that in Tech Recruitment, many businesses use the phrase ‘informal chat’, which is actually code for ‘first stage interview’, so keep this in mind as dress accordingly.

How do the working public feel about dressing for work post-pandemic?
We conducted a poll on LinkedIn and had 100’s of responses from all sectors, including finance, legal, tech, and professional services.  We asked if people felt that dress codes for work had become more informal in a post-pandemic era?  77% of respondents felt that work clothing was more relaxed post-pandemic. 20% thought there wasn’t much change from before, and a small amount (3%) felt that dressing for work was more formal now.  

Interview dressing post-pandemic checklist

  • Banking / Finance / Legal – Suit is still essential
  • Corporate Business services (non-client facing roles) - business smart but not necessarily a full suit is acceptable. If in doubt, go as smart as you can.
  • High Heels – not necessary! Wear is entirely based on personal choice.
  • Ties, should be worn for first and second stage interviews (for corporate roles).
  • Clean smart shoes – always.
  • Clean, well looked after clothing - always
  • Good personal hygiene is important, pay particular attention to teeth, nails, hair and body odour.
  • Gender neutral interview attire: If how you usually dress doesn’t conform to a gender norm, your interview attire shouldn’t either. What is important is that the clothing fits properly, is clean, in a presentable good condition, and is professional.
Fiona Frudd
Fiona Frudd
Head of Marketing