Dress for hybrid work success: Five fashion tips for the new work world

Fashion stylist Michelle Leblanc

The pandemic led to some bizarre fluctuations in the fashion world as designers tried to adjust to the strange needs of a legion of office workers who were suddenly spending their days at home in sweatpants. 

Now, workers are going back to the office, at least part of the time. But, according to Ottawa stylist Michelle LeBlanc, the dress code isn’t as clear as it once was. 

“It’s definitely a weird in-between thing,” she said. “I think that’s why I got a boost of clients in the last six months. Everyone’s like, ‘I need to go to the office twice a week and I don’t know what to do.’”

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As of January, approximately 62 per cent of Canadian employers were using a hybrid working model, according to a recent survey from Colliers Real Estate Management Services

Leblanc, who runs OH Style, which provides fashion consultation services in Ottawa, said she isn’t surprised hybrid workers are struggling. 

As workers return to the office part-time, it can be challenging to know not only how to dress for in-person work, but also how to build a wardrobe that works for a less office-centric lifestyle. 

For one, clothing retailers are still experiencing the lingering effects of pandemic fashion, which can make shopping difficult for hybrid workers.

“I’m not sure what happened with designers, but they weren’t making pants,” she said. “It sounds silly, but it was extremely hard to find pants to go to work in for about a year, other than jeans, leggings and joggers. It’s like everybody took a step back and said, a couple of us will make pants, but we know you’re just going to dress in athleisure for the next two years.”

For some brands, it’s gone the other way. 

Banana Republic, for example, catered primarily to middle management pre-pandemic, offering quality blazers, skirts, pants and blouses that didn’t break the bank. Now, the brand has elevated its products, selling higher-quality items, but for a much steeper price. 

“They did what nobody else did,” said LeBlanc. “They took that opportunity to really elevate their market and cater to the CEOs.”

If the differences at retailers isn’t enough, fashion trends have changed significantly from pre-pandemic styles and silhouettes, especially in office workwear. 

But according to LeBlanc, that doesn’t mean you need to throw out your whole wardrobe and start from scratch.

“The shapes have changed,” she said. “The wide-legged pants have come back quite a bit. The skinny pant has phased out a bit, but on some body types and with some silhouettes and different blazers, it still works and will work for a long time.”

She said she’s also seeing the resurgence of the classic cigarette pants and affordable corporate dresses and skirts are also coming back to the market. While some women are once again donning heels to go to the office, comfortable leather sneakers inspired by street style have become more popular for both men and women. 

Overall, LeBlanc said, office style is clean, but less formal than pre-pandemic. 

“We’re still flirting with casual a lot,” she said. “It really depends on your personality and your lifestyle. People are craving structure. I hear it a lot, like, ‘Oh my god, I need to dress nice again, I’ve been wearing leggings for two years and that’s not good for my self-esteem. I want to dress up as my corporate self again, but I need something a little bit more relaxed.’”

So what’s the key to the perfect hybrid work wardrobe? 

Leblanc said finding simple, versatile items that can be dressed up or down and used in any season is the secret. 

Michelle LeBlanc’s Top Five Style Tips for Hybrid Workers

1. Keep it simple

“If you’re not sure, keep with simple shapes that you liked before and that you know work for your body and colours that you like. You can’t go wrong with navy. A nice pair of dark jeans and basic colours, you’re not going to lose.”

2. Stay away from flashy, cheap retailers, especially online

“During the pandemic, we were bombarded by a million new websites every single day, advertising outfits for $20. Most of the time, if it’s lower-quality material, it will look it.”

3. Invest in quality items that won’t go out of style

“It’s better to spend a little more to make sure you get something that you really like that fits you properly. It’s much better than going for the cheaper, quick and easy brands.”

4. Wear your nice items outside of work events

“You never know who you’ll meet. Sometimes people question what I wear out, but I say, what if my next client is at Costco? If we’re in a line for 15 minutes, someone can strike up a conversation and say, ‘I love your outfit.’ Wear your nice things! It might be a gamechanger.”

5. Re-evaluate your wardrobe regularly to make sure it suits who you are

“Ask yourself questions, even if it’s just once a month. Do I like my wardrobe? Does it reflect who I am? What’s important if you want to move your business forward, or if you want to thrive, is you need to know where you’re going. If you have pieces that don’t really create a pattern or don’t make sense together, you’re not going to know where you’re going. It helps to create directions when you have things that you know are reflecting you and your goals.”

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