Should you buy a whole new office wardrobe?

If you’re wondering how to dress when you return to the office, we asked experts to break down the latest office style trends and offer tips on how to decide if your wardrobe needs an overhaul.

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Hanna Horvath, CFP®

Hanna Horvath, CFP®

Managing Editor & Certified Financial Planner™

Hanna Horvath, CFP®, is a certified financial planner and former managing editor at Policygenius. Her work has also been featured in NBC News, Business Insider, Inc. Magazine, CNBC, Best Company, and HerMoney.

Published August 4, 2021 | 3 min read

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A return to the office looks like it's finally in sight (though the Delta variant has delayed many office re-openings), and one question on many workers' minds is: What do I wear? More than two-thirds of American consumers plan to change their wardrobe from their pre-pandemic styles when they return to the office, according to a recent report from payments company Klarna

If you’re panicking about the idea of going from sweats to a suit and tie, rest easy: The post-pandemic look is about comfort and style. Some companies are relaxing their dress codes, and workers are embracing bolder prints and colors over muted tones. The report from Klarna found nearly half of workers said they expected to wear more comfortable clothes. Almost a quarter are opting for neon colors, and 23% plan to wear more patterns, particularly animal prints. 

If you’re wondering how to approach dressing for the office, we asked experts to break down the latest office style trends and offer tips on how to decide if your wardrobe needs an overhaul. 

Comfort over everything 

Don’t throw away the oversized sweaters and leggings just yet — dressing for comfort at work may be here to stay, said Kristin Kohler Burrows, a senior director for Alvarez & Marsal, a consulting firm for the retail industry. 

“I’ve seen a trend towards more casual, comfortable clothes in general,” said Trae Bodge, smart shopping expert. “Obviously, many of us shifted over to athleisure and loungewear during the pandemic and with that, a realization that we no longer want our clothes to be uncomfortable.”

Casual office dress was already on the rise before the pandemic, said Burrows, but had a “huge insurgency” as people worked and lived all at home. While collared shirts and ties won’t go away completely, it’s likely that formal dress won’t return to pre-pandemic levels, she said.

Employees are opting for more comfortable fabrics, including “athleisure,” a type of hybrid clothing worn in both athletic and non-athletic settings. Burrows expects workers to begin wearing clothing that’s stretchier, softer, more flexible, and generally more comfortable. 

“When I leave my home office, I need to be dressed stylishly but also comfortably enough to allow for lots of running around,” said Bodge. “My sense is that there will be a movement towards that kind of dressing, a blend of comfort and style that will feel refreshing for a lot of people."

Deciding whether to shop or not 

Before hitting “buy” on your shopping cart, figure out if you actually need new clothes. Take a look at your company’s dress policy. Some companies are moving to a more relaxed dress code, while others are adopting a hybrid model that allows for casual Mondays or Fridays, for example. Some companies, particularly startups, had casual dress codes to begin with. 

Next, take stock of what you already have. You might want to shop for a new wardrobe, but you may have suitable options already. 

“If you've been in a hoodie and joggers since March 2020, you probably have work-appropriate pieces in your closet that you’ve forgotten about,” said Bodge.

Before going shopping, get a plan in place. Create a budget to monitor your spending and set a limit of how much you’re willing to spend on new clothes. If you’re doing your shopping online — 80% of shoppers say they prefer shopping virtually — be cautious. The sheer amount of options available, not to mention targeted social media ads, can make you spend more than you realize. Avoid impulse purchases by leaving items in your cart for at least 24 hours before you buy, and remove your auto-saved card information to avoid one-click shopping. 

Image: Topical Press Agency / Getty Images