Friday, August 15, 2008

Reader Query: Work-at-Home Wear

Another gentle reader left me a question in the comments section of my last post concerning work-at-home wear. This is a topic I’ve had intimate knowledge of these last fifteen years, as I’ve worked as a freelance editor.

There’s often a distinction between work and home clothes, and when those two genres intersect, confusion and discomfort can reign.

So: here are my guidelines for clothing to wear while working at home:

Nothing Fussy.

And that’s really it.

No wrap tops with ties, no bell sleeves, no low necklines to adjust, no hair that flounces gently in your face.

For while all of these may be appropriate for the office, where you’re working and socializing with other people, where, somehow, the ratio of comfort to style is often a dazzling 2:11, at home, comfort and simplicity are crucially intertwined in maintaining a professional look.

While I could see myself editing in a suit jacket at the office, at home I need to roll up my sleeves, for I just might wash a dish after calling Federal Express, or I might throw in a load of laundry while mentally parsing a particularly thorny passage.

So my advice is:

1. A comfortable but polished pair of trousers—jeans, twills, cords—something you could conceivably wear to a café for lunch. AVOID: yoga pants, ratty jeans, sweats, or anything with an elastic waist unless you really need to wear them. For summer, a simple skirt (but not the peasant variety unless that’s your work vibe) or longish shorts. I don’t wear Bermuda length (I have quad vanity), so I wear a moderate length that goes well with good sandals.

2. A sleek top—a cashmere crewneck, perhaps, for winter, something that’s not quite a t-shirt for summer. For long periods of sitting and editing I gravitate toward mixed-pattern tops that have a good one-inch waistband and then flow gently (think of almost any top that Stacy and Clinton endorse). **Anything less that a one-inch-think waistband will make you look pregnant unless you are 20 and super slender. AVOID: college t-shirts, too-tight t-shirts, sweatshirts.

3. Good shoes. You don’t want to be tottering around your home in four-inch heels, but you do want something that you can run out for lunch in. In summer, instead of flipflops, try Bonannos. Fall and winter, perhaps a Prada or Coach sneaker, or a Puma leather shoe if you want a more casual vibe. I have a pair of flat Donald J. Pliner shoes that I adore. They’re two-tone: black all along the bottom and dark caramel on top, with a zipper straight up the vamp. They manage to be elegant and sporty and eccentric all at once. AVOID: the scuffy shoes you walk the dog in. Do not wear Crocs. But you knew that.

4. A fantastic jacket, for running to the bank, the post office, the café, the grocery store. Although only one of those locales may be part of your business, you’ll find that a great jacket (or coat) can really make the outdoors rock. I love feeling “dressed” in an appropriate coat and shoes. Consider a variety of trouser jackets: I have my navy Prada for fall, a pistachio Anna Sui pleather for spring, a Max Mara brown tweed car coat, and a navy Elie Tahari military short coat with silvertone buttons for winter. And there’s a Barbour for wet weather. AVOID: windbreakers unless you’re going on a jog.

5. Minimal accessories. You don’t want to be fussing with clinking bracelets or look overdone with chandelier earrings.

6. Makeup: a little, so your look is pulled together. And always a good lip gloss or stain. My favorite is Bobbi Brown.

7. Simple and clean hair. I can’t work with it in my face. I can’t concentrate if it’s dirty. Can you?

And be sure to take a pajama day if you want to. Just be sure to put on clean nightwear before you go to bed so you don’t feel grungy.
**Just in case there's confusion, please know that I'm well aware that women work at home every day. (I have three children, remember? And a second full-time job too.) But I find that FOR ME, taking-care-of children clothing doesn't, well, work, for the business-world work-at-home iteration of myself.


Cupcakes and Cashmere said...

i'm home sick today and am working from home. sadly, my outfit consists of oversized sweatpants, a grungy shirt and snarled hair. your options sound far more appealing!

miss cavendish said...

Sick days are exempt from style rules!!! Sometimes it's a relief to get the flu.

K.Line said...

Another excellent advice post. I don't work from home, but all of your suggestions seem right on!

miss cavendish said...

Ahhh--but you certainly do work *at* home. Your house is so neat and organized!!! I'm typing this among eight weeks worth of luggage and bags of newly purchased books.

Angie said...

I love this post. I've found myself wearing sweats around the house more and more when I'm home all day, and I've been feeling increasingly horrible about it. Your post is a much needed push in the right direction for me.

Btw, I'm wearing a peasant skirt right now. I just had to laugh out loud when I read the little blip about it. I'm only wearing it because it's disgustingly hot today and everything else just sticks.

miss cavendish said...

Oh dear--I don't mean to antagonize peasant-skirt wearers (not that you sound antagonized!). I just mean that something a little crisper could be more work-appropriate.

I hear you about the heat, though; I worked in my Umbro shorts and University of Iceland tee today. But don't tell anyone!

Songy said...

I liked your comment on Crocs, miss c.

enc said...

You've found a wardrobe that works for your busy life, and it's got great structure, but it isn't too strict. Nice.

enc said...

(It's cute that you promoted a pamama day.) :)

pve design said...

If I look to "dressed" - my children want to know where I am going and if I am underdressed, well there are always critics lurking. My motto is looking fresh, clean and accessories are always the perfect finishing touch.