Dress for the job you want, not the one you have is familiar advice. Except what’s the secret to sartorial success when your career role models are confined to a two-inch cube on your monitor? If you haven’t set foot in an office since last spring, why bother with office attire? In fact, why bother with daytime attire at all? The key is comfort, right?
Well, sure you don’t want to be bound up in restrictive clothing. It’s just research reveals that what we wear can affect our attitude and productivity. When many of us began working from home for the first time last year, the sweats and tee combo seemed sensible. Except for many of us, remote work is no longer transitory. It could go on for a while. Which means whatever gives our performance an edge is worth exploring. So, here are some suggestions for your work from home dress code.
Business in the Front
Have you heard of the business mullet? The perennial ‘80s hair band style that never seems to go away completely was short in front, long in back. Aficionados described it as business in the front, party in the back. The business mullet also has dual personalities. In this case your business attire is on the top, while the bottom is hidden from Zoom –– only you and God know what’s going on down below.
Concerns about client conferences being disrupted by staffers sporting frayed tees or pajama tops has led some companies to issue dress codes for remote workers. A work from home dress code seems intrusive, even weird –– especially when you consider how casual many offices had become before the pandemic. Influenced in large part by tech superstars who built their billions in hoodies, tee shirts, and flip flops, many workplaces allowed all types of attire. Long gone are the days when men wore ties and women wore skirts. Now a polo shirt and intact jeans are often sufficient. Still, looking like you rolled out of bed when you’re trying to sell a million-dollar product is not a great way to inspire client confidence.
The COVID-19 pandemic was of course a unique situation. It wasn’t the same as when someone makes the choice to work from home. It happened quickly. For many of us it was hugely stressful. Which means in the early weeks, we did what we could to get our jobs done and if we skipped a few showers, that’s the way it goes. Heck, one survey revealed that one out of three remote workers admitted to doing their jobs naked! Believe me, I am not applying for a position with the Fashion Police. Instead, I’m suggesting that what you wear (or don’t wear) can really affect performance.
Why It Matters
In a study from 2012, students who wore white lab coats performed better than those who wore casual street clothes. Last year, the study’s author, Dr. Adam Galinsky, suggested to The Wall Street Journal that those who embrace the business mullet may subconsciously feel inauthentic –– “Is there actually an inauthenticity cost or benefit for the fact that we often have these dualistic outfits, and what is that difference, how does that affect people?” It’s also possible that keeping extra cas below the waist could make it “…feel like people have a little secret and that can be kind of a motivating thing, that they’re doing something other people don’t know about.”
Several studies suggest that dressing more formally for work leads to higher levels of abstract, big-picture thinking –– in other words when you dress powerfully you feel powerful. However, many successful longtime-remote workers discount this notion and if you’re paying your mortgage in your footie pajamas, who am I to argue?
Still, it’s worth considering. After all, working from home may become permanent for many of us. I stand by my earlier advice about dressing for the office: invest in quality not quantity and don’t neglect the value of comfort. Consider having outfits dedicated to your work, whether they are ath-leisure or $250 tee shirts from The Row. Adopting a specific work from home dress code reflects my conviction that true peace of mind will arrive when you separate your work space from your living space. Just as you should keep your office work far from where you sleep, dressing differently for work rather than a bagel run will help you compartmentalize.
The other important reason to adopt your own work from home dress code is that removing it sends a subtle signal that the work day is over. The physical act of undressing can calm your mind and prepare you for an evening of fun or a night of rest. And if you’re hoping for some casual nudity, perhaps it’s better suited for when the work day is over.
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