The new work uniform: Navigating post-pandemic office dressing

New Yorkers are usually one step ahead on trends, even when it comes to the pandemic. Manhattan streets are alive with vaccinated office workers, but one thing has not returned with them: classic business attire. Wall Street lawyers and bankers are strolling back to the office wearing jeans, t-shirts and – gasp – activewear, according to The New York Times, and it’s a similar story close to home.

The death of the classic work uniform is another part of our new normal, and it causes sartorial stress for some. “We have a lot of guys coming in now saying, ′I want to get back in a suit, because it’s actually easier for me,” says Tom Riley, director of premium Australian tailor Patrick Johnson Tailors. “When guys dress casually for work there’s more of themselves on display as an individual, and not necessarily a professional identity. So that creates challenges when meeting clients.”

Tom Riley says it’s best to invest in some key wardrobe pieces.

Tom Riley says it’s best to invest in some key wardrobe pieces.Credit:James Harvey Kelly

While we may never go back to formal office wear five days a week, looking our best can give an extra boost of confidence. So how can you execute casual smartly?

Step one: relax. “People are emphasising comfort, and we’re going back to a more generous cut – it’s not so strict and skinny anymore,” says Riley. “There’s a sense of richness that can only come with a bit of volume. You can’t achieve that with clothing that’s tailored too slim.”

Secondly: invest. It’s better to purchase better quality clothes, but less of them, and orbit your wardrobe around a limited number of key pieces: “a great pair of jeans, a sharp jacket, quality shoes,” says Riley. “Disposable fashion is really starting to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths.”

Third: mix and match. Men are showing their creativity by teaming paradoxical, clashing items, such as teaming a weatherproof technical jacket with classic tailoring. “But it’s not like you can just wear ordinary mountaineering gear ­– it’s a genuine part of a contemporary wardrobe.”

Fourth: dress (grown) up. “We’re moving away from street-style juvenility and seeing more maturity in clothing,” Riley explains. That could mean juxtaposing a tweed jacket over denim with a crisp Oxford shirt. “It’s got the appeal of looking a little bit ‘dad-sy’ – but worn with enough softness that it doesn’t look ‘op-shop’.”

And finally: recycle. Riley suggests cherry picking the best fashion from the past, but choosing wisely. “Nostalgia is important in clothing, because it gives us a sense of warmth, but it has to be done for the right reasons,” he says. “Some trends are transient for a reason, but the good ones are everlasting, and endlessly mixable.”

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