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.
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!
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.
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.