Back-to-Office Attire: 4 Tips to Help You Dress for a More Flexible Workplace

By Robert Half on May 18, 2022 at 2:15pm

By Brandi Britton, Executive Director, Contract Finance and Accounting, Robert Half

The COVID-19 pandemic changed many aspects of office life for Americans, including how to dress for work. Previously, many of us wore business outfits five days a week — slacks, dresses, and even suits and ties. When we moved to remote work, many of us traded in our polished professional attire for yoga pants, tees and sweatshirts.

Comfort became the top priority and the new norm. Some dressed up a bit more when they planned to turn on their cameras during virtual meetings. Many made no changes even on camera. There was a sense of camaraderie about it, too, seeing your colleagues wear clothes that made them feel comfortable. It helped reduce the stress of work and life, especially at the beginning of the pandemic.

Like other companies across the United States, some finance and accounting firms are weighing how to return to the office full time. Some have adopted hybrid work schedules, with employees continuing to work remotely at least part of the week. For those times when people are in the office, though, what should they wear? Here are a few things to consider when it comes to your back-to-office wardrobe.

Consider business casual as an extension of the new flexible workplace

Increased flexibility is one of the positives that has come out of the pandemic, especially when it comes to remote options and employee-set daily and weekly schedules. Along with that trend is likely to be a more relaxed dress code. In fact, it made the return-to-the-office wish list in a recent survey from global talent solutions firm Robert Half.

Employees and job candidates are in the driver’s seat in this talent-short environment, with many choosing to quit or move to another firm if they don’t get what they want. At companies that want to avoid turnover and drive continued high performance, full formal attire is likely to become a thing of the past.

Another reason for the move toward a more easygoing dress code could be the greater importance workers and companies now place on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Many employees want to work for businesses that promote diversity and create a sense of belonging. The choice of what to wear could be just another facet of people’s desire to bring their whole selves to work.

Even before the pandemic, finance and accounting firms were embracing a more casual dress code. While some still require suits, ties, dress slacks and blouses, others have begun welcoming jeans and khakis worn with collared shirts.

Keep your schedule in mind

A new concept called “dress for your day” is on the rise at some finance and accounting firms. The basic idea is that your daily schedule dictates what you wear, and client expectations are critical here. If you’re meeting with an important client, wearing a dress and heels or a suit and tie might be appropriate. On the other hand, if you don’t have external meetings scheduled and will be working from your desk all day, a casual outfit might be appropriate. It may also be a good idea to keep a spare formal outfit at your desk or in your office in case you need it on short notice.

Follow some basic guidelines

Much of your choice in clothing should be simply based on common sense: Make sure your clothes aren’t too revealing and that they fit appropriately — nothing should be too tight or too loose. Your outfit, while it may be on the casual side, must still be clean, neat and well-assembled in terms of colors and patterns.

Dress more formally for interviews

For in-person and virtual job interviews, it’s better to be over-dressed than under-dressed. So, err on the slightly more formal side of things. You can opt for a suit or a dress, but today, a business casual outfit is probably a happy, and appropriate, medium for almost any setting. If you land the job, you’ll adjust to expectations for dress as you settle in. If you’re new to a firm and angling for an early promotion, take note of how those in senior roles dress and follow suit (no pun intended).

Clearly, each firm will have its own unique approach to dress as employees return to the office. Overall though, we’re likely to see environments that are less rigid when it comes to sartorial creativity and comfort than in pre-pandemic days. It’s incumbent on each employee to know what is appropriate and what goes too far.

Follow Brandi Britton on LinkedIn.

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