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
COVID, cost of living and a shift towards more sustainable fashion have changed the norms around appropriate workwear
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.
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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Passwords aren’t enough to fend off hackers; these dongles are the best defense
Strong passwords are very important, but they’re not enough to protect you from cybercriminals.
Passwords can be leaked or guessed. The key to online security is protecting your account with a strong secondary measure, typically a single-use code. This is referred to as “two-factor authentication,” or 2FA, as the nerds know it.
I’ve written about all the different types of 2FA, such as getting those codes sent via text message or generated in an authenticator app. Having any kind of second factor is better than none at all, but physical security keys—little dongles that you plug into a USB port or tap on your phone during account logins—offer the highest level of protection.
Security keys have been around for over a decade, but now they’re in the spotlight: Apple recently introduced support for them as an optional, added protection for Apple ID accounts. Last month, Twitter removed text-message-based authentication as an option for nonpaying users, recommending instead an authenticator app or security key.
Some people are hesitant to use security keys because carrying around a physical object seems burdensome and they come with a $30-and-up added cost. Plus, what happens if they get lost?
I’ve used security keys since 2016 and think they are actually easier to manage than codes—especially with accounts that don’t require frequent logins. They’re not only convenient, but they can’t be copied or faked by hackers, so they’re safer, too.
Here’s how to weigh the benefits and common concerns of adding one or two of these to your keychain.
Many internet services support the use of security keys, and you can use the same security key to unlock accounts on many different services. I recommend two from industry leader Yubico:
Other options include Google’s Titan security keys ($30 and up). In addition to working with laptops and tablets with USB ports, these keys are compatible with smartphones that have NFC wireless. Most smartphones these days have that, since it’s the technology behind wireless payments such as Apple Pay.
Adam Marrè, chief information security officer at cybersecurity firm Arctic Wolf, recommends that your chosen key is certified by the FIDO Alliance, which governs the standards of these devices.
To add a key, look in the security settings of your major accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.). During setup, it will prompt you to insert the key into your laptop or tablet’s port or hold the key close to your phone for wireless contact.
Apple requires you to add two security keys to your Apple ID account, in case you lose one.
Typically, when you log in, you just go to the app or website where you’ve set up a key, enter your username and password as usual, then once again insert the key into the device or hold it close. (Some keys have a metal tab you have to press to activate.) At that point, the service should let you right in.
Getting those two-factor login codes via text message is convenient, but if you are someone criminals are targeting, you could be the victim of SIM swapping. That’s where thieves convince carriers to port your number to a new phone in their possession, and they use it along with your stolen password to hack your accounts.
Even if they don’t go to all that trouble, criminals might try to trick you to hand them your codes, by calling you or spoofing a website you typically visit. At that point they can use the code for about 60 seconds to try to break in, said Ryan Noon, chief executive at security firm Material Security.
Security keys protect you in two ways: First, there’s no code to steal, and second, they use a security protocol to verify the website’s domain during login, so they won’t work on fake sites.
You can also add an authenticator app such as Authy to your most important accounts, to use only as a backup. But once you add these secure methods, you should consider removing the text-message code option.
In the rare case that someone snoops your passcode then steals your iPhone, beware: The perpetrator could still make Apple ID account changes using only the passcode, and even remove security keys from your account.
The most important rule of security keys is to buy an extra one (or two).
“Think of your security key as you would a house or car key,” said Derek Hanson, Yubico’s vice president of solutions architecture. “It’s always recommended that you have a spare.”
If you lose a security key, remove it from your accounts immediately. You should have already registered your spare or an authenticator app as a backup to use in the meantime.
Start with your most valuable accounts: Google, Apple, Microsoft, your password manager, your social–media accounts and your government accounts.
When it comes to financial institutions, many banks don’t offer security-key protection as an option, though most leading crypto exchanges do.
Security professionals and tech companies widely agree that passkeys are the future. They’re a new type of software option that combines the high security of a physical key with the convenience of biometrics such as your face or fingerprints. Passkeys are supported across the Android, iOS, Mac and Windows platforms, and some of your favourite sites already let you use them.
You can create a passkey on Facebook in security settings by following the app’s instructions under the security-key option. Dropbox has a similar passkey setup. Once you’re done, you’ll use your face or fingerprint as a second factor, instead of a code or key.
Eventually, physical security keys could be what we keep safe in strong boxes, as backups for our biometric-enabled passkeys. Even then, you’re probably going to want to have spares.
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