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The Dressing-for-Work-at-Home Dilemma

By Catherine Gordon, JD | June 29, 2012

It's about 10:00 a.m. on a Tuesday, and as I sit down at my laptop at my home in Florida with a cup of coffee, I'm hit with a flashback of a former worklife. It's a few years back, I've just gotten to the office after getting up at 5:00 a.m. and a two-hour commute across New York City on various forms of mass transit.

I'm wearing my "work uniform"--a linen suit with coordinated hosiery and business pumps. The rest of my office mates look just like me--men and women dressed to the hilt, starting their 10, sometimes 12, hour days.

Flash forward to today. I awoke around 8:00 a.m., took a shower, got dressed, walked the dog, and finished most of the morning newspaper. I walk over to my "office"--a part of my home set up with a desk, files, books, CDs and my computer. The business suit is gone--it's been replaced by a sleeveless cotton dress. The business shoes and hosiery have been replaced by bare legs and sandals.

Is this dramatic change unique? Hardly. It's being replicated in offices and homes everywhere. The phrase "dress for success" has a completely different meaning than it did 10 years ago. Offices have gone from the "casual Friday" to casual wear everyday and every place. Some companies even have consultants who provide office managers with assistance in establishing guidelines for what is and what isn't appropriate in the new dress-down environment.

For the many small business people working out of their homes, the difference is even more apparent. Even if office dressing has gotten more casual, if you work out of an office, you must get up, get ready, leave your home and go to work. Working at home requires getting yourself into the mindset of your home as your workplace.

Dressing for working at home been a struggle at times for me, and I'd like to share some suggestions for you to consider when you dress for your workday at home. How you answer these three key questions will determine how you dress at home:

  • What kind of person are you? This is the first and foremost thing you should consider. You know yourself better than anyone. Do you need the structure of your "work uniform" to make you feel like you're "at work"? Or are you at your most productive when you're as comfortable as possible? The effect on your productivity is what's most important. If dressing in sweats makes you feel "at work" and productive, then by all means go for it.
  • What kind of profession are you in? It may be seem pretty obvious, but in certain professions, no one expects you to be in a suit and tie. As a matter of fact, in an effort to appear like the head of your own business, you don't want to alienate the very people whose business you're courting. On the other hand, if you're an attorney or an accountant, you may want to wear your suits to court and save your casual clothes for your research days. In a similar vein, however, you need not stick only to the tried and true. For example, let's say you're an attorney running your own solo practice. Do you always meet your clients wearing a business suit? If you do and you feel the most comfortable doing business that way, then by all means continue. However, if the only reason you continue to do business this way is because you've always done things that way or you think your clients expect it, but you feel more at ease in less traditional, formal clothing, change it up. You may be pleasantly surprised when your clients feel at ease and more confident in your abilities because you do.
  • Can you separate your work and home life? For many people, working at home means that the distinction between their work and personal life becomes blurred. How you dress while you're working at home can blur that line even further. Even though you're not technically "going to work," use your wardrobe to help you create that invisible boundary. Establish a routine--get up at a certain time, take a shower, and dress in clothes that are casual and comfortable, but still make you feel like you're getting down to business.

And don't forget that there is a difference between casual wear and "casualty" wear. Resist the urge, for example, to stay in your nightclothes all day. It's hard to look professional in your underwear, even to the most understanding client. Casual wear, on the other hand, can be both comfortable and professional. But most important of all, remember, what you should wear at home is what works best for you! There is no "right" answer for how to dress.

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