How Should I Dress for Work Now?


This is the general dilemma we are all facing, after a year working from home in leggings and Zoom shirts, or outside the bubble in P.P.E. The other evening I was actually going out to dinner with friends in a restaurant, and I spent about 30 minutes just staring into my closet as if it were a foreign territory, trying to remember what I used to wear.

After all, we’ve been changed, pretty essentially, by the pandemic. So, too, our clothes need to change. We can’t pretend the last year didn’t happen, nor can we dress as if the last year didn’t happen. Which leaves us where?

As you note, there is a growing body of punditry coalescing around the idea that we will soon be in for a Roaring Twenties redux with its go-go party dressing ethos. (You can understand it: That decade also emerged out of a pandemic.) But 21st-century flapper is not exactly office-appropriate clothing.

Especially for doctors, who have been on the front lines and for whom trust is very much a part of the public conversation. Like anyone whose job involves convincing others that they can feel confident and safe in your judgment, dress plays an important role when it comes to subliminal messaging.

Pointedly, back in 2018, a group of researchers from the University of Michigan, Georgetown University and Baylor published a study in the British Medical Journal Open titled “Understanding Patient Preference for Medical Attire.”

Subjects were shown a variety of pictures and asked to rate them according to how “knowledgeable, trustworthy, caring and approachable each physician appeared.” Guess what? The highest rated combination was not the scrubs of the “Grey’s Anatomy” gang pictured above; it was a white coat and formal dress.

So what does “formal dress” mean today in the work context?

The answer probably centers on fabric. It’s worth preserving some of the qualities we learned to appreciate in clothing during the pandemic, especially comfort, but in elevated materials. Instead of leggings and sweats, think jersey, silk, georgette, crepe and crisp cotton.

Since you will always be layering under a jacket, thin dresses that allow movement without effort or relaxed shirting atop narrow trousers is the way to go. For dresses, look at M.M. LaFleur (especially its sale options) and Michael Michael Kors. For tops, especially great print numbers, check out Anthropologie. And for pants: Everlane (for basics) or Boden (for prints). You want to avoid anything that’s constricting or fiddly or that makes noise when you walk.

That’s my prescription, anyway.

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.

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