What to wear at work?

DH’s new job is remote but they do a LOT of zoom meetings.

Recently DH’s boss instituted a meetingless day of the week and he asked everyone if they enjoyed it.  The lead programmer said she really liked not having to style her hair or worry about what shirt she was wearing.

DH chimed in to agree– he has also been agonizing over what to wear from the waist up.  Right now his summer shirts only come in button-down (programmer-blue) and various types of t-shirts.  He has exactly one polo with his department name embroidered on it from when he was a professor.  There’s nothing in between!  (Oddly, he has a LOT of nice business casual programmer long-sleeve stuff because his mom sees him for a week every Christmas and that’s what she buys for him because that’s what he takes to the frigid Midwest with him because that’s what he has.  It’s a cycle.)  The boss was like, wear whatever you want I will not notice!  (I suspect the boss will notice changes even if he doesn’t notice the baseline– people are used to me being slightly unkempt which means they only notice when I’m made up for tv or have just gotten a really nice haircut.)

I recently realized that I cannot actually go into work 5 days a week in the fall unless I lose weight or buy new clothing.  (Neither of which sound particularly appealing to me.)  In my current obese size I have plenty of business clothes to teach in and plenty of ratty workout clothes to work from home in (with various levels of t-shirt niceness if I I have meetings) but I have one pair of dockers shorts and one pair of black dress pants that fit.  I don’t think any of my skirts currently fit, just dresses.  UGH.

The current department head has mandated business casual for the students which means we can’t come in in workout clothes (except on casual Fridays).

What do you wear at work?  Has the pandemic changed that?  What will you wear going forward?

49 Responses to “What to wear at work?”

  1. mnitabach Says:

    Wait your university academic department has a dress code for students??? First I’ve ever heard of such a thing in my many decades in academia.

    • Steph Says:

      To some extent, I think it’s helpful to give students guidance about what to wear – there *are* some unspoken rules that about appropriate attire (which also vary from department to department). But requiring business casual feels a bit extreme for academia.

    • Lisa Says:

      My uni does the same thing for students in medical professional degree programs. I try to follow their dress code when I’m teaching, but it’s pretty easy to pick out the basic science faculty as compared to the clinical faculty based on clothing. It’s also easy to tell which basic science faculty are teaching on any given day!

      • teresa Says:

        That feels insane and so far from when I used to not infrequently wear t shirts and pajama pants to class- in both undergrad and med school. I was not unusual for it either. We never had dress codes aside from lab safety requirements and times when we were actually seeing/interacting with patients. OTOH I see students from my neighborhood SLAC going to and from campus in sweats/pajamas and athleisure all the time (even back when they actually had class) so maybe it’s more a regional thing.
        Suits in FL just sounds cruel.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Before the dept head instituted business casual, people did come to class in pajamas pretty regularly. *shrugs*

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        (Also: during the pandemic I told my students they could come to class in pajamas and I wouldn’t tell on them.)

  2. Chelsea Says:

    It looks like they are being discontinued (why????????) but I wear a lot of these Uniqulo drape tees (https://www.uniqlo.com/us/en/women-drape-crew-neck-short-sleeve-t-shirt-422722.html?dwvar_422722_color=COL31&cgid=#q=drape%2B&lang=default&start=1). Even when they aren’t on clearance they are inexpensive and the drape is super forgiving and also dressy at the same time. If I didn’t WFH I would these with black pants/skirt and maybe a black cardigan/blazer thing every day. You could even put on a necklace if that was your thing. As it is, I think the shirts give me a very professional-looking collarbone and above on Zoom.

  3. Steph Says:

    I enjoy wearing dresses and/or blazers. I’m an odd shape/size, so it’s really hard for me to find clothes that fit. At my postdoc I leaned hard into business casual styles, and liked that a lot. There were a few other postdocs who also liked to “dress up” (relative to standard academic style), so I didn’t feel out of place.

    I’m still figuring out the norms at my new institution. Particularly in the summer, I feel more comfortable just wearing semi-casual dresses as long as they hit my knees. My summer dresses are L.L. Bean/Talbots-type summer dresses that don’t show too much cleavage, as opposed to actual business casual dresses. I’ll probably try to find some more work-style dresses for the fall, but I still need to go shopping. I have to teach every weekday this fall, so I will need to be on-campus and appropriately dressed every day (sigh).

    Post-pandemic I’m definitely leaning harder into dresses and trying to find more work-appropriate skirts. I was moving that way anyway, but I still wore jeans 1-2 days per week. My pre-pandemic jeans don’t really fit anymore, and it’s a pain to find ones I like and then get them tailored. So I’m down to only wearing jeans 1-2 days per month. Dresses make me feel more put-together because I don’t have to match tops/bottoms, and I don’t have to worry about a shirt coming untucked or my waistband riding down.

    I’ve been shopping pretty much entirely on ThredUp for the last year. (Shameless self-promotion – here’s my referral link: https://www.thredup.com/r/ZYJ3OP) I like that I can sort by size, even if the measurements aren’t always great, and I can return things. It’s not as cheap as a regular thrift store, but since regular thrift stores rarely carry my size, ThredUp is a more pleasant thrifting experience. I’ve gotten to the stage where I always have enough reward points to waive the return fees on regular orders, but initially you could try a goody box, which has free returns.

    • Steph Says:

      Oh, I should also say that my knees/cleavage points are about my own comfort with what parts of my body are visible, particularly around students, as opposed to rules I think everyone should follow. I cared a lot less about cleavage at my postdoc for some reason, but Zoom made me way more conscious about it. My camera made all my v-neck tops look extremely plunging and I felt weird about it. So I’m doing a lot more cami layering under my dresses these days.

  4. CG Says:

    I pretty much wear Boden dresses to work, or at least I did when I used to go to work. If you find a cut of theirs that works for you, you can be confident in buying used ones on ebay as well as new. They are forgiving of a few pounds up or down and so comfortable. When I started working I wore dress pants and jackets to make myself look like someone who the students (who were my age) should respect. After a while realized I hate wearing dress pants and jackets so I don’t do that anymore. I suppose they would not work in every office setting–they can be a little more on the funky rather than business-y side, but for academia I think they’re totally fine.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I would *like* to be the kind of person who just wears pants and a suit jacket as a uniform, but in reality I always overheat and the jacket comes off and then about 40% of the time I remember I’ve left it on the back of a chair and have to interrupt a meeting or another class to retrieve it.

      • CG Says:

        Oh yes, and I would wear the jacket in the car on the way to work and have to shove my winter coat on over it because I’d be freezing to start out with and then I’d be dying of the heat by the time I got to work and up the three flights of stairs to my office. No more jackets for me.

  5. nanani Says:

    “I will not notice” they say until a woman actually does show up “unkempt” and then it’s all concern and “she must be tired” and it looks like she can’t keep up. Can’t win, can’t trust them to -actually- not care about appearances.
    Yes I’m cynical.

  6. delagar Says:

    I did my undergraduate degree at University of New Orleans in the 1980s. The U is right on Lake Ponchartrain, and students would FREQUENTLY come to class in bathing suits. (Other students: I never did. I wore cut-offs and tank tops, though.)

    • CG Says:

      That is awesome.
      I live in a university town and teach at a different R1 about an hour away that’s much more of a commuter school. The students I live near dress much more casually than the students I teach, probably at least in part because my students actually have to get in the car and drive to school rather than rolling out of bed and walking two blocks.

  7. teresa Says:

    I’m spoiled in needing to wear scrubs 99% of the time. I’ve had good luck using Trunk Club to acquire a handful of business casual appropriate tops and a couple pairs of dress pants for meetings and such. What they send tends to be pricier, but I’m okay paying more to have someone else pick everything out for me and send it packaged with return labels so I just have to drop it back off somewhere with the things I don’t want.

  8. Matthew D Healy Says:

    A dress code for students? We sure didn’t have that in the Zoology Department at Duke in the 1980s. If we had, most of the faculty would not have passed: biologists are extremely informal.

    And judging from what academics wore to conferences before the pandemic, they haven’t improved their sartorial standards in recent years.

    • Matthew D Healy Says:

      PS: when DW was still going to the office at her company (which is dominated by Biology PHDs), she said in summer she was always hearing the sound of flip-flips as colleagues walked past her desk.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Economists tend to be a very East Coast business/business casual garbed bunch. You can always tell an economics conference from other social sciences in terms of drabness and formality of attire.

      • Lisa Says:

        Along the same lines, I can always tell which other grant review panels are meeting at the same hotel (back when we met at hotels) by their clothing. The basic science group I’m in runs the gamut from T-shirts and shorts to khakis and a button down shirt, but the clinical science review groups would always be in suits.

  9. Cloud Says:

    I am sitting here in a t-shirt and shorts working so yeah, my work attire has changed a bit with the pandemic. People in my office did dress like this pre-pandemic, but I always avoided shorts and still would if I were going into the office. But when I’m just sitting at home and am only ever seen on Zoom calls from the waist up I am more lax! I work in a very casual field so unless I’m going onsite at a customer, I was on the casual end of business casual most days. I do sometimes need to go to the business end of business casual and I had some sweater sets that worked great for that. A full on blazer is generally a bit much in my field.

    I find the Corprette website to be a useful source of inspiration for work clothes. She does a mix of prices and dressiness and I’ve picked up some ideas there. (Also, it was the site that led me to my beloved Lo and Sons laptop bag).

    Brands I have good luck with (I am a size 14 now, kinda top heavy): Nic and Zoe, Leota, Gap (for some great business OK but really lightweight so not hot tops – but it is hit or miss) and I am still mourning the fact that Eddie Bauer stopped making the polo shirts I loved.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I should have bought more early pandemic when everyone was having insane sales! But I assumed I’d eventually get back to my pre-pandemic size.

      Right now puff sleeves and stripes (not at the same time, I think) are in and those are not my favorite…

  10. xykademiqz Says:

    I’ve lived in yoga pants during the pandemic.
    At work, I have always worn pants with tunics and sensible shoes. Too chesty for anything that buttons down and most blazers; what fits over chest and shoulders (played volleyball plus tall) looks like a tent around the middle and is always too short in sleeves and down the waist. I will never understand why the clothing industry pretends women over 6 ft don’t exist, or that, if they do, they must be emaciated. Anyway, that’s my tiny rant; back to the topic. I mostly wear jeans (either dark blue or black) and dark long-sleeved tops. The fanciness of top and shoes varies according to the seriousness of the occasion.

  11. Alice Says:

    I was WFH before the pandemic, so my day-to-day clothing has actually gone up a notch. We mostly operated via conference call prior to everyone jumping on Zoom, but now I have to look camera-ready more often– daily for some projects, a few times a week for others. I do still mostly wear t-shirts and exercise clothes… just slightly nicer ones, or with a covering cardigan.

    I stopped work travel when I had my kid and was on the verge of being open to it again before the pandemic hit. If I were to have to start up again… shoes are always my limiting factor. I need ones that won’t exacerbate a bunch of foot problems. It was already hard to find ones that read at the right level of formality, and I added Achilles tendonitis to my roster of foot issues last summer. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I have to be a professional person in public again. If I can find something that’s truly good, I’d happily wear skirts and dresses with blazers/cardigans. But if the best I can do is a pair of shoes that sort of pass if you don’t look too closely, it’ll be long black dress pants. At least the pants cover part of the shoes.

    (I really hate the shoe situation. It’s so limiting. I would wear such dumb, cute shoes if my feet would put up with them, but they never have.)

  12. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    My workwear has pretty much dropped off a cliff. I started just a step below full suits with full make-up so people would take me seriously because I looked like a teenager in my late 20s. Over the past decade, I’ve shed the make-up and have ended up around robe/pajamas. No one can tell the difference since they don’t see me anyway and I’m equally hardnosed in a suit as I am in pajamas. Win!

  13. Lisa Says:

    My workwear hasn’t changed THAT much except that I never wear a nice jacket and skirt anymore and will wear workout gear when I’m working from home. When I’m in the office without something fancy or important to do that day, I was always wearing jeans or yoga pants and a comfortable shirt of some sort. I’ve been sliding to the yoga pants all the time end of the scale (though I generally don’t wear leggings in to the office) and tend to add whatever shirt I feel like rather than trying to be a little stylish or look nice. Converse sneakers (when I’m pretending to be the VP;) or running shoes. While part of me wishes I could look nice and stylish sometimes, most of me doesn’t care, so that’s what we’re left with.

  14. First Gen American Says:

    I have a few big chunky necklaces that I wear with black t-shirts and it looks dressy on zoom. I also sometimes put a suit coat over it.

    Most of my work outfits are too small as well. And right now, the little house on the prairie aesthetic is all the rage which is neither flattering or work appropriate for me. The struggle is real.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My go-to for the summer is a shapeless blue sundress from target that looks a bit like a mumu but is long enough that I don’t have to shave my legs. If I put a short sleeve cardigan over it I don’t have to shave under my arms either! (Mostly I just don’t leave the house…)

  15. SP Says:

    Usually jeans and a top. Usually not a t-shirt, something more dressy, but others wear t-shirts. A blazer if i have a meeting, and if it is an in person meeting with external guests, dress pants too.

    No change due to the pandemic.

  16. middle_class Says:

    I have been wearing tshirts and sweat pants only, even during zoom video calls. I have a feeling that I no longer fit into my work pants but I don’t want to buy for my new size. I am most worried about make up and hair. I was never good at either and do not look know how to style my hair anymore!

  17. accm Says:

    For teaching first- and second-years: “nice” (= non-jeans) pants and nice-ish top, carefully selected to have a high-enough neckline and enough space and pattern to hide nervous sweat. For teaching 4th-years: I consider jeans to be fine. Since I’m in a physics department, this already makes me (and the few other women, most of whom have similar personal dress codes) better dressed than average. But you have just made me realize that I now have a 9-week deadline to fit back into those nice pants, which have mostly hung untouched in my closet these last 16 months. Yikes.


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