A capsule wardrobe of simple, neutral tones can serve you well as offices re-open. (Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash)
A capsule wardrobe of simple, neutral tones can serve you well as offices re-open. (Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash)

It’s difficult to imagine what the dress code will resemble for professionals heading back to the office after more than a year of remote work. 

Suffice it to say, our work-at-home wardrobe —  sweatpants, baggy shirts, tights, and glorified PJs (or actual PJs) — should probably stay, well, home. But that doesn’t mean an easy, clean simple style shouldn’t take its place. 

Amanda Leigh, a Los Angeles-based image consultant and wardrobe stylist, has coined a name for the look she suspects will dominate the next normal: “The Modernistic Minimal Women.” Who is this woman? She’s dressed in clothing that’s casual yet professional; neutral not fluorescent; and sophisticated not … sloppy.

The best way to achieve this look (or really, any look) is by building a “capsule” wardrobe — that is, a collection of versatile pieces that can be mixed-and-matched together. It makes for a more organized closet, and reduces decisions that can delay getting out the door. “It’s cost effective too, as everything in a work-friendly capsule wardrobe will coordinate and make you look well put together,” says Harpa Grétarsdóttir, a fashion marketing specialist at Icewear, an Icelandic fashion brand with 15 stores.

Here are some basics you might include in your own capsule as you return to work in real life.

Tops

Start with simple blouses or solid-toned shirts, the wardrobe experts say.

What kinds of colors should you invest in for tops? Per Leigh’s recommendation, seek out neutral colors. Specifically, anything white, black, grey, beige or sage. Certain trending prints, like stripes, gingham and plaid, are also suitable for workwear.

Leigh cautions against colors that are too fluorescent for workwear. Some bright shades, however, are okay for showing off a bit of personality. “If you love bright colors like pink, then wear a pink top and coordinate wisely with a flattering pant or skirt to match,” she says. 

Pants

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Blue or black pants work best, the experts say. (Credit: Courtesy of Icewear.)

Add full-length pants to pair with blouses and shirts mentioned above.

If you have an important meeting coming up, Grétarsdóttir recommends wearing black pants. Or, you could switch up this traditional look and trade in tailored deep blue pants. Workwear that incorporates blue is said to make individuals look more reliable, confident and intelligent. A deep blue may also boost our abilities to think creatively.

Skirts and Dresses

Add a midi or pencil skirt to your capsule wardrobe and coordinate it with a solid-colored top, says Leigh. 

You might also invest in dresses for your capsule. Keep these dresses at midi to maxi length, straight, and without distracting patterns or designs. 

Outerwear

Every capsule needs a fitted and complimentary blazer, the experts say.

Leigh recommends using a blazer as a layering option to pair with simple blouses and pants or the midi skirt. And when it comes to jackets or coats for cool temperatures, look again for neutral colors and avoid too much fuzz or fur. 

And don’t forgot the certain reality that comes with returning to the office: Adjusting to the office thermostat again. 

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Alpaca shawl on model, (Credit: Courtesy of Grenn Pilot.)

At Grenn Pilot, a women’s outerwear brand, founder Karen Levitt  says a comfy shawl could become a staple of the new normal, like this neutral-toned alpaca one that the company makes (see photo). The versatile piece helps combat the AC, pairs well with a variety of outfits, and may even act as an office-appropriate blanket. (Peace out, Snuggie.)

Footwear

In the before times, it was not uncommon to keep a few shoes at your work desk to slip on and off depending on the occasion. Working from home and via Zoom has accustomed many working professionals to trade in heels in favor of sneakers, slippers or no shoes at all.

As offices begin to loosen up dress codes, Leigh recommends pairing jeans or pants with casual sandals or classic sneakers. Looking for a more traditional, yet comfortable, footwear option? Try simple, neutral loafers, or low-heeled shoes, or flats. 

Accessories

First day back? Grétarsdóttir says accessorize with a functional bag that is large enough to carry everything you need to take to and from work. 

Other accessories, like jewelry, should be modern and minimal in gold, silver, or other light colors, as per Leigh’s recommendation. 

The Complete Capsule

It may seem daunting to put together a capsule wardrobe to return to work. 

However, now that you know which pieces can act as its building blocks, putting together a capsule wardrobe is more than simple. It’s sustainable.

And it may just be a way to look and feel your best in an unsettling time. While many Covid 19 restrictions are lifted, life still isn’t quite back to normal. But at least your wardrobe can be one less thing to worry about. 

Heather Taylor is the head writer for PopIcon, Advertising Week’s blog dedicated to brand mascots.  She been published on HelloGiggles, Brit + Co, Joy, Business Insider, and more online outlets. Find her on Twitter @howveryheather.

The post has been updated to clarify that Karen Levitt is founder of Grenn Pilot.

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