The Work Wardrobe Has Come Full Circle

For seventeen years, I had an office uniform. Not a real uniform – just one that met the dress code of a typical office. For the first few years, the self-imposed uniform was mostly black-trousers-and-something, though I occasionally changed it up with grey trousers – just to add a splash of colour. My trousers were always too long (I’m 5’2”) so I worked around this with high heels, alterations, and a big sigh of relief when everyone switched to skinnier ankle-grazers.

black work trousers - Office Mum

A new job about ten years ago was an opportunity to finally start wearing dresses to work, and oh how wonderful that was. No more matching or fixing or pulling or realigning tops and trousers – just put on a dress and go. It also meant breaking free from the black and grey palette – you know, going wild with navy and cream.

Work-wear is a funny one. You spend a huge amount of time in it, so it’s logical to wear clothes you like, yet there’s something about spending any significant amount money on work clothes that irks. At least it did me. At some points, I was bored with the sameness, so spent all my money on cheaper bits and pieces to build up variety. Then I got tired of the cheap stuff, and went for a smaller number of better quality, more expensive dresses and tops. But then of course lack variety was the problem again – it gets boring alternating the same outfits every fortnight, no matter how nice they are.

Then I started working one day from home with one day off – having only three days in the office meant my work wardrobe stretched for longer, and didn’t get boring quite so quickly. I’d finally found what worked. And as everyone knows, as soon as you find what works, everything is thrown up in the air again. My office closed, I took redundancy, and decided to work from home.

The work dresses went to the attic, the stuff I never liked went to charity, and I was free to wear whatever I wanted. Jeans and converse every day. Hurrah!

Converse - Office Mum

The hurrah didn’t last long. A few weeks into it, I realised that I didn’t really feel the part anymore. People regularly asked me how I was finding it being a stay at home mum, and though it shouldn’t really matter, somehow it did.

I felt the need to explain that I was still working, so would launch into the same script every time (“It’s great, it’s busy, because I only have two and a half hours every morning for work, and then I work again at night after they go to bed” – if you know me in real life, you’ve heard this for sure.)

Then I remembered something my lovely career coach had said to me, about dressing the part.

I hadn’t bought into it at the time. Seventeen years in work clothes – I couldn’t wait to wear jeans and flats every day. But eventually I realised that she was right. So I smartened up – just a little bit. Still in jeans but sometimes with a blazer. Or casual dresses and smart-ish coats. Not the formal grey and black office-wear of the past – it’s all “home” clothes – but just a little bit smarter than before.

And it worked – I started to feel more like someone who still “works outside the home” albeit in my kitchen. And I might be the only one who feels like this – I know lots and lots of freelancers who work in pyjamas and are very productive – but I am better when I’m in work mode, and some version of work dress.

But then along came winter.

winter boots - office mum


And I had to buy a duvet coat. And for four months now, I’ve been wearing my duvet coat every day:


It doesn’t matter what dress I wear, because nobody sees it. I do the school-run in my duvet coat, I work alone in my house, then go back to the school in my duvet coat. I get up each morning and wonder what to wear, then remember that mostly, it doesn’t matter.

The work wardrobe has come full circle – far from escaping the sameness of days gone by, I’m right back where I was. In fact this is the closest I’ve ever come to an actual uniform – I look exactly the same every single day. And it’s been four months now. I’m ready for change – bring on spring.

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13 thoughts on “The Work Wardrobe Has Come Full Circle”

  1. I am big into dressing the part. I like to look smart and organised for work. I live Monsoon tweed dresses and the like for work.
    Since I have been at home I spend a lot of time in jeans and tops but, like you, got sick of that. I felt a bit slobby. I need to wear something smart to feel productive, even if it only a nice pair of jeans with a polonecks and nice boots.
    I think we have all been there in the no-one sees me without my coat phase. I have crocheted myself a few hats to combat the boredom of the look.
    Fionnuala recently posted…This Is Motherhood #022My Profile

    1. Love the hat idea! I’m no crochet-er but I do have some very nice bobble hats – must stick them on more often. And I think we’re nearly there – I think there’ll be the odd day out of the duvet coat soon. Or at least leaving it open… 🙂

  2. I hear you on not wanting to spend money on work clothes! And there’s the problematic grey area of nicer things which get worn into work once or twice, and are then forever tainted by association

    1. I had a way to get around that – I had work clothes in one section of my wardrobe and home clothes in another (my wardrobe is tiny – this makes it sound big!)
      And I allowed myself to wear something from the “home” section to work but in my head, it was still very clearly home clothes, and an exception, therefore not tainted!
      I admit this sounds slightly mad, but as someone who gets the tainted thing, it might make sense 🙂

  3. I found some of this out by accident; I think I fell into the usual ‘loss of identity’ SAHM thing but, when I started my little business and the kids started school I found myself putting more time into ME …. which also meant getting fitter and a little slimmer. The slimmer me needed new clothes, and I went for slightly less casual, dressy clothes, probably because I was feeling better about myself! I was amazed at how differently people reacted to me, just in that one small change. It was a big eye opener and now, on days when I might be feeling a bit low, I deliberately dress up a little and it changes both my attitude and the attitude of those I meet!

    (And that was a longer ramble than I intended 🙂 … great post, thanks!)
    Naomi Lavelle recently posted…Science News Round up – February 2016.My Profile

    1. It’s so true – there’s a huge difference in how people react, and that in turn can really affect how you feel about yourself. And I love the idea of dressing a little on the days when you feel a bit low – taking note of that one 🙂

  4. It really is a double edged sword. I hate my work clothes but I’ve also gained weight which I’m trying to lose again so I’m refusing to buy anything new at the moment. I’m absolutely a black trousers, kitten heels and cardi chick in the office. It’s the easiest to fling on in the rush of my mornings. Don’t lose getting dressed to bring the kids to school. I see the same mom bring her kids to the bus stop in her duvet coat and onesie daily, she then proceeds to had a chat long after the bus is gone in her PJs. In my mind, it’s not acceptable. Getting dressed is a much more productive part of the morning. And you will be much more productive.
    Louise recently posted…Mind Body Transition – Part 5My Profile

    1. The black trousers and cardi combo is so easy though – I did that for years and years and years! But yes, I know when I hate all my work clothes, I just feel crappy and feel like throwing money at it. We spend so much time in them.
      I reckon I can safely say, I will never, ever bring the kids to school in a onesie – even with a duvet coat to cover it 🙂

  5. My version of dressed vs not dressed is jeans vs yoga pants. If I’m in my yoga pants I haven’t showered and might still be harbouring notions of exercising that morning. Once I shower and put on my jeans that means the exercise has happened (or more often these days has been shelved again) and it’s time for work. I love my boots in the winter but was never much of a one for heels, so in the summer it’ll be mostly flat sandals.
    But if I have to do something grown-up, like meeting a teacher or masquerading as an author (I have to talk to homeschoolers about it this week!) I fish out my proper trousers and find some sort of a shoe and feel a bit more professional. It absolutely boosts my confidence to feel I look the part, even if how someone playing “the part” might look is all in my head.
    Christine recently posted…Things the cats are fascinated by, a partial listMy Profile

    1. I am the same with heels generally and only wear them now for nights out BUT I do have black boots with a rubber heel and I love wearing them even on school days, they definitely make me feel more work-y! And yes, I love dressing up a bit for meetings or events of any kind – that would include coffee with a friend. Best of luck with the talk to the homeschoolers – fab! And also congrats on the libraries on both sides of the ocean – really, really good news.

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