What To Wear When You Work Remotely

Learn why attire still counts even when out of office

Employee chats with colleagues on video call
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If you’ve accepted a remote role or are currently working remotely either full- or part-time, you may be wondering what to wear. Should you don the same clothes you used to wear in the office, shift completely to comfy outfits, or follow another fashion path?

Here’s advice on how to decide what to wear when you work remotely, how to balance style and comfort, and tips for what to wear when you need to dress professionally for video meetings.

Key Takeaways

  • What to wear to work from home depends on your industry, job, and personal preferences.
  • Balance dressing for comfort with professionalism and making the best impression.
  • A splash of color can add positive energy to your appearance.

The Rise and Continuation of Remote Work

The number of people working remotely, at least some of the time, rose significantly in recent years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey Summary reports that the number of employees who worked from home doubled to 42% in 2020. More recently, a Sept. 2021 Gallup poll found that 67% of employees in white-collar jobs reported working from home either exclusively (41%) or some of the time (26%).

Surveys point to this remote work trend continuing. In fact, nine out of 10 people working remotely want to continue doing so, and 76% expect their employer to continue to offer remote work options, according to the Gallup poll. 

How To Decide What To Wear

As remote work and work flexibility are likely here to stay, what you wear daily or at least in particular situations can be an important consideration. However, there’s no one correct answer to the question of what to wear when you work from home. Some factors that may play a role in your outfit choices are:

  • Your industry: Expect more formal outfits to still be the rule in sectors such as banking or consulting.
  • Your company and your role: Expectations can differ from one company to another, even in the same industry. If you have a client-facing role or are in senior management, you may need to dress more formally. That's true if you're frequently on camera, too.
  • Your personal preferences: Some people may find they can’t work productively if they’re in outfits that are close to pajamas, while others might require comfort above all.

Balance Comfort With Looking Put Together

The move to working at home changed a lot for workers—including their outfits. Bras felt less essential, sales of leggings surged, and people started referring to jeans and other pants with a defined waistband as “hard pants.”

This shift to comfort clothes is “really fun for a week,” said Linda Davis, USA training manager for stylists at color and style advice brand House of Colour, in a phone interview with The Balance. But Davis cautions that making comfort your number-one priority can affect your mental health and productivity, and how you come across to colleagues.

Choose Camera-Ready Comfortable Attire

According to Davis, there are plenty of positive aspects to being comfortable at home, but you need to strike a balance between comfort, feeling put together, and presenting well. Davis recommended seeking out clothing that’s comfortable and looks good on camera. These items don’t have to be dry-clean only or expensive. Machine-washable collared shirts are options, as are cotton tops and cardigans in place of blazers.

With these outfits in place, you can feel confident if you have an unexpected meeting—no need to rush to your closet to change your outfit beforehand. “Even on the days you don't see anybody, you can feel really good about yourself and be more productive,” Davis said.

For formal meetings or job interviews, business, smart casual or business casual attire are good options. Consider wearing a suit, sport coat, button-down shirt, or nice sweater.

Follow a Routine

It’s important to follow a morning routine, one where you’re not necessarily putting in an entire workday dressed in the previous night’s pajamas.

Looking presentable “makes you feel good and like you are in your professional mindset,” said Christine Heinrich, a recruiting manager at Las Vegas-based IT and staffing firm Taurean Consulting Group, via email to The Balance. “Remember you’re human,” Heinrich said—that means washing your face, brushing your teeth, and combing your hair.

Focus on Flexibility

If you don’t have on-camera meetings or you work in a very casual environment, you don’t necessarily need to have clothes set aside as “work” outfits.

“One of the benefits of working from home is that you don’t always have to get dressed up, and you can embrace not having clothes dry-cleaned or laundered,” Heinrich said. She noted that this can be a big cost savings as well as being more comfortable.

If you’re productive and happy working in a T-shirt and sweatpants, and that’s acceptable to your employer, wear them.

Flexibility is key. If you’re presenting, you may need to wear a button-down shirt. On the days you’re working head down to prepare the deck for that presentation, comfortable but less professional clothes are just fine.

“Not every day working from home is the same,” Heinrich said. Your outfit choices can reflect that, with different choices for days when you’re on and off camera, so she recommended choosing your comfort based on the situation.

Adjust for Camera-Heavy Days

If you are showing up on camera, you can always wear what you wore in previous office jobs. “You’ll feel more confident when talking with people,” Heinrich said.

What you wear could make a difference in how your co-workers and supervisors see you. Heinrich pointed out that if you’re the only one in a T-shirt and hat, it’s probably noticeable. In an in-person role, you might model your work outfits on what your peers and manager are wearing; you can do the same when you have a work-from-home position.

You can also take a mullet approach (business in the front, party in the back): You can opt for unstructured and comfy pants or shorts paired with a more professional top.

“I dress for comfort and for professionalism (from the top up) if I have a video meeting with a client or a colleague,” said Ayesha Mehdi, a partner at the law firm Spencer Fane and a mom of three, in an email to The Balance. Mehdi has found the combination ideal for balancing work, home, and her children.

What To Wear for Video Meetings

Here are a few tips for what to wear to present yourself well during on-screen meetings:

  • Consider your color choices: Color grabs attention and adds energy, Davis noted. Look for shirts and tops that are appropriate for what you do as well as being comfortable and in colors that look good on you, she recommended.
  • Try lipstick: “Adding a pop of lip color is very impactful,” Davis said. It’s not just that your lips become more visible; your face and eyes will show up more, too. That’s important, since making eye contact and connecting over video meetings is more challenging than in-person encounters. Davis said that adding some color to your lips can really help with some of those connections that people are trying to make online.
  • Don’t forget about accessories and hair: For some, earrings and a scarf can make a big difference in overall appearance. Styling your hair and makeup can also play a big role in how you appear to others. Mehdi’s look during meetings is formal (at least above her waist). “I even wear a blazer or suit jacket, have my hair and makeup done, and wear accessories, like earrings,” she said.

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