Why pyjamas are not appropriate for the office - but relaxed workwear is
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Why pyjamas are not appropriate for the office – but relaxed workwear is

COVID, cost of living and a shift towards more sustainable fashion have changed the norms around appropriate workwear

By Robyn Willis
Wed, Mar 8, 2023 7:00amGrey Clock 5 min

The past few years have seen a radical shift in what many would consider appropriate workwear. After months working from home, office workers have adapted to a hybrid model defined by ‘anchor days’ and flexible working hours. For International Women’s Day, stylist and sustainable fashion advocate Madeleine Park has partnered with Dress for Success, a not-for-profit organisation designed to empower women to gain financial independence by enabling them to face the job market with confidence. Here, Ms Park addresses the challenges of dressing for the new workplace amid cost of living pressures and hybrid work environments.

What is appropriate office wear in a hybrid workplace? How did COVID change what we wear to work?

Anything that says you’re ready for work (i.e. not your pyjamas!) is appropriate, but COVID certainly softened and eased the rules on what’s acceptable. People want a level of comfort not only in what they wear but how they interact with others and this is interfacing with how things are being designed. So whilst suiting has had a moment in fashion for some time now, it’s a deconstructed and softer version of the traditional suit. The modern suit is often seen in fashion-forward colours and in relaxed and oversized fits, carrying the ideas of comfort, ease and adaptability. There is also a trend towards the high-low. So, mixing high-impact items with low-key staples and comfort pieces. An example of this could be a very fashion-forward pink suit with pleated wide-legged pants and an oversized blazer paired back with sneakers, cotton t-shirt and a cross-body bag but this is subverted into a weekend look. Once this suit is deconstructed, the pants on their own offer a lovely sophisticated silhouette that can be paired back to a more traditional fitted business shirt providing a classic silhouette more appropriate for corporate environments.

How are we shopping for workwear now when more people are working from home at least part of the week?

From a consumer perspective, individuals are requiring more adaptability in their wardrobes as well as trying to understand their wardrobes in more sustainable ways. Their clothes need to be chic while driving more functionality across different environments, and as things get tighter financially, this will continue as individuals seek maximum cost per wear out of their garments. So, those pieces that look smart but are comfortable and can translate across different contexts e.g collared t-shirts, a knit midi skirt or tailored pants in natural fibres such as linen, or silk. Consumers are also shifting towards repurposed pieces and investment pieces so there is more longevity to their wardrobes. 

Sustainable fashion advocate and podcaster, stylist Madeleine Park

Women are now being encouraged to be more assertive in business environments, whether that’s asking for a promotion or getting their point across in meetings. How can you dress for that kind of success?

You only get one chance to make a first impression so it is important to present yourself in a way that is contextually appropriate, resonates with your audience but offers an insight into who you are. While that can feel like a lot of pressure on one outfit, finding that look that makes you feel assertive, is a great way to enter into a confident mindset. Combining that confidence with a sense of self is a very individual thing, but you can fall back on some straightforward styling principles to guide your look. For example, choosing shapes and silhouettes that provide a stronger presence, finding your look in a colour that suits you but in a shade that makes impact and, lastly, accessories – whether it’s the right shoe height, a piece of jewellery that shines a light to who you are or a belt or scarf that adds interest to an otherwise straightforward suit – accessories are a great way to add individuality and lift your look. 

Is it possible for women to look professional and feel comfortable in the workplace?

Absolutely! As there is a shift in the fashion industry to design with purpose, we are seeing more and more styles that are adaptable to various environments. As a result, more traditional workwear pieces are being produced in softer, more free-flowing fabrics and in more relaxed silhouettes. Not only is this a more modern way to conceive of workwear, considering the various hybrid work environments a lot of people are operating in, but generally, this translates to looks that offer style and comfort whilst having multiple purposes.

Does the ‘dress for the job you want, not the one you have’ rule still have relevance?

You can think about using your wardrobe as one of the tools in your kit to give you impact. However, as we see more inclusivity across job roles and changing work environments, the rules around dressing for the job you want have changed. Just take the example of Melanie Perkins, the CEO of Canva and billionaire – she has broken the mould in so many ways, not only with a female-founded start-up but she presents as approachable and relatively casual and is fairly vocal about anti-materialist sentiments. So we are seeing a shift in the expectations of appearance and relying more on a focus of an entrepreneurial spirit. Across the board, that sense of entrepreneurialism is associated with more casual looks that wouldn’t have traditionally been associated with negotiating multi-million dollar deals. 

Are there different rules around work wear for women and men? What are they?

There are definitely still environments that lend themselves to more traditional gender rules for corporate dressing like a suit and tie for men, blouse, skirt and blazer for women, however these protocols are specific to the individual workplace. As concepts of gender become less polarised and we embrace more size inclusivity, the way fashion is constructed, and trends are evolving, we see more styles designed to fit any body shape. The world is changing so whilst this sentiment might not be as overt in more traditional environments, there are definitely signs that what men and women wear to work is not necessarily defined by gender. 

Is it still worthwhile for men to invest in a suit? What about investment clothing for women?

Investing in classic items that stand the test of the time is always worthwhile, whether it be a tailored suit or a classic cut blazer. Made-to-measure pieces tend not to be transient pieces in your wardrobe, they feel better to wear, and they stand the test of time. Interestingly, there has been a surge in women’s bespoke suiting services and I think this is because women are seeking out that same tailored service that traditionally has been the placeholder for men. Corporate environments are shifting in terms of formality around workwear but suiting shapes are also softening and becoming more relaxed to adapt to the changing work trends. 

If you had to name one failsafe work wear outfit for women, what would it look like?

As a general rule, something that is a classic style, well constructed and made from natural fibres is always going to be a winner in terms of feeling good and carrying you through your day. As we are all different body shapes, express ourselves differently and have different priorities, I can only speak to my one failsafe look, which would be a waisted midi dress in cotton or silk. The conservative but fashionable length carries me into various contexts and the natural fibres are breathable and comfortable. By changing shoes and adding/taking off an unstructured blazer, I can easily get myself from school drop-off to work meetings (on or offline) to, if I’m lucky, a date night with my partner!



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Is ‘Rizz’ the Secret to Getting Ahead at Work?

Whether you call it charisma, charm or magnetism, some people seem like naturals. Good news: It can be learned.

By Rachel Feintzeig
Mon, Jul 22, 2024 4 min

Great leaders have it. Gen Z has a new word for it. Can the rest of us learn it?

Charisma—or rizz , as current teenage slang has anointed it—can feel like an ephemeral gift some are just born with. The chosen among us network and chitchat, exuding warmth as they effortlessly hold court. Then there’s everyone else, agonising over exclamation points in email drafts and internally replaying that joke they made in the meeting, wondering if it hit.

“Well, this is awkward,” Mike Rizzo, the head of a community for marketing operations professionals, says of rizz being crowned 2023 word of the year by the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s so close to his last name, but so far from how he sees himself. He sometimes gets sweaty palms before hosting webinars.

Who could blame us for obsessing over charisma, or lack thereof? It can lubricate social interactions, win us friends, and score promotions . It’s also possible to cultivate, assures Charles Duhigg, the author of a book about people he dubs super communicators.

At its heart, charisma isn’t about some grand performance. It’s a state we elicit in other people, Duhigg says. It’s about fostering connection and making our conversation partners feel they’re the charming—or interesting or funny—ones.

The key is to ask deeper, though not prying, questions that invite meaningful and revealing responses, Duhigg says. And match the other person’s vibes. Maybe they want to talk about emotions, the joy they felt watching their kid graduate from high school last weekend. Or maybe they’re just after straight-up logistics and want you to quickly tell them exactly how the team is going to turn around that presentation by tomorrow.

You might be hired into a company for your skill set, Duhigg says, but your ability to communicate and earn people’s trust propels you up the ladder: “That is leadership.”

Approachable and relatable

In reporting this column, I was surprised to hear many executives and professionals I find breezily confident and pleasantly chatty confess it wasn’t something that came naturally. They had to work on it.

Dave MacLennan , who served as chief executive of agricultural giant Cargill for nearly a decade, started by leaning into a nickname: DMac, first bestowed upon him in a C-suite meeting where half the executives were named Dave.

He liked the informality of it. The further he ascended up the corporate hierarchy, the more he strove to be approachable and relatable.

Employees “need a reason to follow you,” he says. “One of the reasons they’re going to follow you is that they feel they know you.”

He makes a point to remember the details and dates of people’s lives, such as colleagues’ birthdays. After making his acquaintance, in a meeting years ago at The Wall Street Journal’s offices, I was shocked to receive an email from his address months later. Subject line: You , a heading so compelling I still recall it. He went on to say he remembered I was due with my first child any day now and just wanted to say good luck.

“So many people say, ‘Oh, I don’t have a good memory for that,’” he says. Prioritise remembering, making notes on your phone if you need, he says.

Now a board member and an executive coach, MacLennan sent hundreds of handwritten notes during his tenure. He’d reach out to midlevel managers who’d just gotten a promotion, or engineers who showed him around meat-processing plants. He’d pen words of thanks or congratulations. And he’d address the envelopes himself.

“Your handwriting is a very personal thing about you,” he says. “Think about it. Twenty seconds. It makes such an impact.”

Everyone’s important

Doling out your charm selectively will backfire, says Carla Harris , a Morgan Stanley executive. She chats up the woman cleaning the office, the receptionist at her doctor’s, the guy waiting alongside her for the elevator.

“Don’t be confused,” she tells young bankers. Executive assistants are often the most powerful people in the building, and you never know how someone can help—or hurt—you down the line.

Harris once spent a year mentoring a junior worker in another department, not expecting anything in return. One day, Harris randomly mentioned she faced an uphill battle in meeting with a new client. Oh!, the 24-year-old said. Turns out, the client was her friend. She made the call right there, setting up Harris for a work win.

In the office, stop staring at your phone, Harris advises, and notice the people around you. Ask for their names. Push yourself to start a conversation with three random people every day.

Charisma for introverts

You can’t will yourself to be a bubbly extrovert, but you can find your own brand of charisma, says Vanessa Van Edwards, a communications trainer and author of a book about charismatic communication.

For introverted clients, she recommends using nonverbal cues. A slow triple nod shows people you’re listening. Placing your hands in the steeple position, together and facing up, denotes that you’re calm and present.

Try coming up with one question you’re known for. Not a canned, hokey ice-breaker, but something casual and simple that reflects your actual interests. One of her clients, a bookish executive struggling with uncomfortable, halting starts to his meetings, began kicking things off by asking “Reading anything good?”

Embracing your stumbles

Charisma starts with confidence. It’s not that captivating people don’t occasionally mispronounce a word or spill their coffee, says Henna Pryor, who wrote a book about embracing awkwardness at work. They just have a faster comeback rate than the rest of us. They call out the stumble instead of trying to hide it, make a small joke, and move on.

Being perfectly polished all the time is not only exhausting, it’s impossible. We know this, which is why appearing flawless can come off as fake. We like people who seem human, Pryor says.

Our most admired colleagues are often the ones who are good at their jobs and can laugh at themselves too, who occasionally trip or flub just like us.

“It creates this little moment of warmth,” she says, “that we actually find almost like a relief.”

MOST POPULAR
11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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