Elevating Casual Looks For the Workplace: It’s Time to Spend on Your Casual Work Clothes

When I posted about my client, Ms. Incandescent, who is the CEO of a major corporation, many were surprised by how casually the wardrobe capsule was that I built for her.  After this, it got me thinking about how I constructed elevated casual looks for her to strike that balance of looking like a leader while still maintaining that dressed-down look.  This is what inspired today’s post because as we, hopefully, fully return to some normalcy without any more setbacks —now as completely different people— the workplace dress code is completely and irreversibly changed.  

We’re now hearing words like power casual and high-status athleisure, terms that two years ago would have sort of made sense.  Now, we completely get it.  We’ve leaned into comfort and nobody wants to go back.  And why should we, really?  We’ve all proven that we don’t need to give up breathing or not feeling our feet at the end of the day to get the job done.  On the other hand, however, there is this side to all of us, I think, that does miss the idea of getting dressed.  The consensus in what I’ve read about this emerging style of workplace dress post-pandemic is that people still do in fact what to make a fashion statement.  It makes sense if you think about it.  For a long time, we all were stuck at home with nowhere to go, not being seen.  I remarked on how this all affected us over the past two years here.  We want to get dressed again, we just don’t want to be uncomfortable.  

So here we are, living in this new world with a new dress code for work that actually feels exciting.  The only issue is, we might not be as prepared as we wished we were.  When the pandemic hit, many working women realized they had two categories of clothing, work clothes and then yoga pants and not to be caught dead in.  These women never bothered to spend the time or money on what I refer to as mid-casual clothes, which is that sweet spot between sloth casual and work fashion because the majority of their time professional women spent at work with weekends for relaxation.  it made sense that how their money was spent on clothing followed suit.  

Changing Our Mindset About Casual Clothes

Many are also grappling with what’s been ingrained in us since the first time our parents told us to change out of our school clothes and put on our play clothes — you don’t spend money on casual clothes. It’s crazy when you think about it, but so many of us have no problem plunking down several hundred dollars on a cocktail dress we’ll wear once or twice but hesitate to spend more than $50 on a t-shirt we’ll wear until it becomes a dust rag.  So much of this, I believe, goes back to what we believe about the place casual clothes have in our lives.  Casual clothes are for doing casual things and therefore should not cost a lot.

But now we’re living in a world where it’s all one big blur, where it’s not just okay to dress casually at work, but where we have more room to be expressive about how we dress when we do.  For the first time, casual clothing isn’t just for running errands on the weekend or going to the park.  We’re wearing casual clothing in stylish ways to close major deals, go on business trips, client interface, and more, proving the argument that just like you once invested in your work clothes, so should you be investing in your casual work clothes.  The upside is, prior to the pandemic, wardrobes were much more compartmentalized, where you had your work clothes and your casual clothes.  Now, those lines are blurred and the ability to wear all pieces across the board is much more flexible.  Perhaps we’re living in a time where we won’t have classifications like casual clothes and work clothes and, instead, will simply just have clothes.

Elevating Casual Looks for the Workplace

I am elevating five casual looks for the workplace to show you how I took some comfortable and casual pieces and made them workplace friendly.

Outfit #1

casual looks workplace

You don’t have to revamp your entire wardrobe. Often, it’s just changing how you wore your work pieces to look more casual that will work just fine. In this look, I styled my favorite Akris Punto Franca pants with a structured cardigan from The Fold to create an elegant casual look for the workplace. If you prefer a modern look, places like M.M. Lafleur does their Jardigan in a handful of different silhouettes. I added this toile t-shirt from L’Agence and finished the look with red slides from Margaux and a whippet silk scarf from Hobbs.

Outfit #2

casual looks workplace

Pre-pandemic, I thought elastic waistbands for workout pants and pants you would order out of the back of a Sunday newspaper magazine insert that my grandmother would wear.  Post pandemic?  Unless they are jeans, pants without an elastic waist are pretty much dead to me.  We’ve moved long past the jogger at this point and are in trouser/jogger hybrid territory.  This pair from M.M. Lafleur is one example.  I styled them here with this Frame popover top that replaces the classic white button-down shirt, which I layered over a bra top that looks like a tank from Aritzia, and finished the look with slip-on sneakers from Aquatalia, a horn bracelet and convertible two-tone drop earrings from Merjuri.

Outfit #3

casual looks workplace

Dresses aren’t dead now that we’re dressing more casually but how we are wearing them probably is.  It’s not to say a banging sheath dress with kick-ass heels is completely out, it’s more a matter of time and place.  I think this spring women will totally be embracing dresses and will be doing it in a very casual manner.  With this BOSS Hugo Boss dress, for example, instead of styling it the old classic way with heels, I styled it with a pair of Stuart Weitzman sneakers and gold/black earrings drop earrings from Alexis Bitter.   The sneakers by Stuart Weitzman are a perfect example of elevating casual pieces.  Perhaps in the past, you wouldn’t have spent a lot on sneakers, but if you’re now going to be wearing them to work as you would a pair of pumps, it might be time to consider upping your budget.

Outfit #4

casual looks workplace

I bought one pair of Everlane’s Dream Pants and I was sold on them.  I love how they look tailored but offer the comfort of joggers.  They’re not budget busters and can be that nice hybrid piece that works for the weekends as well as for work.  For the workplace, you can elevate these pants by bringing in better pieces, like a pair of flats, like these by M.Gemi, and this Eileen Fisher cotton sweater.  I finished the look inexpensively with this horn necklace.  Not everything has to break the bank, as long as it looks like it does.  

Outfit #5

casual looks workplace

The blazer, jeans, and tee look is incredibly ubiquitous and certainly a pre-pandemic look.  If you’re ready to embrace it too and are in a position of leadership at your workplace, know that all blazers, jeans, and tees are not created equally.  Spend on these pieces as you would any of your other work pieces.  Buy a good pair of jeans and treat them as you would any other pair of work trousers.  Buy a good blazer and higher quality tees.  

I styled these white Lafayette 148 jeans with a double-breasted Veronica Beard blazer in navy and a relaxed t-shirt from Frame.  I finished the look with Jenny Bird drop earrings along with a pair of Cole Haan knitted oxfords which aren’t necessarily expensive but super comfortable and have become a casual workplace staple.

What Are Your Work Wardrobe Plans Post-Pandemic?

Will your work wardrobe be changing post-pandemic and if it will be how do you envision elevating your casual wardrobe to balance looking professional and casual at the same time.  Leave a comment below.

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