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How to get your wardrobe ready for a return to the office

Are you in a panic about what to wear to work?

It’s taken a pandemic, but now it’s finally been proven that we don’t need heels and a power suit to be productive. In fact, according to a recent survey 71% of people questioned in the finance sector say they actually feel more productive in relaxed clothing!

One thing for certain is that work dress codes have permanently changed. With many companies adopting a ‘dress for the day’ policy – and even the most traditional industries taking on a more relaxed attitude to workwear – smart-casual dressing is here to stay.

After eighteen months of restrictions, you are likely to be in a comfort zone of elastic waistbands and dressing from the waist up. Now, not only do you have to consider what to wear on your bottom half, but you also have to consider the prospect of meeting people again. Crikey! That’s a lot to think about.

This is a perfect opportunity to press reset on your wardrobe. A new, relaxed dress code means you can create a work wardrobe that actually feels comfortable to wear AND brings your personal style to the table. Moving away from rigid dress codes and showing more of your authentic self brings benefits way beyond the clothes.

After eighteen months of restrictions, you are likely to be in a comfort zone of elastic waistbands and dressing from the waist up.

Here are my seven steps to help you style your new work wardrobe:

Step 1. Go through your wardrobe

Go through your work wear past and present. Ditch anything that is past its best and/or out-of-date. Put the styles you want to keep on a separate rail. Put formal styles that you want to keep, but are not likely to wear to the office (yet), into storage.

Vacuum packs are great for doing this as they protect your clothes and can be neatly stored away. Take a look at the styles you have on your rail as these are the building blocks of your ‘new’ work wardrobe.

Step 2. Try everything on

Don’t be tempted to leave this to the last minute, especially if you haven’t worn some of your clothes since before lockdown. Try on every garment on the rail in front of a full-length mirror to see if it fits and flatters you.

Trust your instinct here and don’t keep anything that feels ‘meh’. It has been proven scientifically that clothes have a psychological effect on how we feel. Wearing clothes that make you feel good will have a positive effect on your mood and confidence.

If you have put on a few pounds in lockdown don’t beat yourself up over it. Just put anything that doesn’t fit in storage for now. The ultimate goal is to have work clothes that you wear now.

Step 3. Assess what you have

Now take a look at what is on the rail and see how many outfits you can create. Do you have enough for your days in the office? You also need to take into account what you will be doing at work:

  • Do you need smarter outfits for presentations, board meetings or socialising with your team?
  • Do you have enough bottoms to tops?

Make a note of any items you need.

Step 4. Pull together some inspiration

It’s highly likely that some of you will feel completely uninspired by what is on your rail. Don’t worry, I have seen many clients who haven’t updated their wardrobe since 2019! With the usual sources of inspiration such as seeing colleagues, shopping and socialising severely restricted you need to find some elsewhere. Start building a mood board of images and styles you like.

Pinterest is a great way to do this but you can use whatever way suits you. This is an example of a mood board I created with a client using magazine tears.


5.  Tips for creating smart casual outfits

This topic could take up a whole blog! The right look for you will depend on your personal style, body shape and your office dress code. There is one key thing you need to remember though and that is, the clue is in the name, ‘smart’ ‘casual’.

If you wear a combination of both you can’t go wrong e.g. a smart blazer with jeans, tailored trousers with trainers. Experiment with this formula and see how many smart casual combinations you can create.

Note: this is often referred to as ‘high-‘low’ dressing.

6.  Write a focused shopping list

Using your list, research the styles you need online. Stay focused on this list to avoid impulse buys and buying items similar to those you already own. Use your mood board for inspiration. In the case of the client above it is clear that she liked wide leg trousers so this was something we could add in to work with her tops.

7.  It’s about YOU

Remember that the most important aspect when all is said and done is how you feel. If you feel happy, confident and like ‘you’ then you are on the right track. It’s tempting to think that how you dress is a frivolous concern but if it bothers you, it matters.

Having a work wardrobe full of wearable clothes you love doesn’t happen by chance. The good news is that it takes a little bit of time and effort but it can be easily achieved. Follow the tips and have fun experimenting!


Sally Smy is a personal stylist and founder of Queen Bee Styling. Prior to setting up her business ten years ago, Sally had a successful 18 year career in fashion buying working for leading high street retailers.

She now specialises in helping professionals dress with confidence and create a wardrobe that plays to their strengths. She also speaks and hosts workshops for many women’s networks both online and off including several government departments (The Foriegn and Commonwealth Office, department for Digital Culture Media and Sport and the Women In Economics Network).

If you would like further information on Sally and her services please drop her a line. You can also sign up for her free monthly style subscription which includes seasonal style tips and discounts offers.

Stay in touch with Sally:

Instagram, Facebook: @queenbeestyling

Linkedin: Sally Smy