Work clothes have evolved a lot since the days of a mandatory skirt and shirt. Many offices in the city have changed their approach to strict dress codes, and big law firms and banks are now allowing staff to wear jeans every day of the working week (not just on casual Fridays). This, combined with the 5 million people who are self-employed, means our attitudes and need for strict work attire has dramatically changed. However, that doesn’t mean people don’t want to have a uniform of sorts in their wardrobes. Ultimately, you want your work clothes to be versatile, comfortable and smart enough for the job you’re doing.
I work in fashion, therefore, I can pretty much wear anything to the office. I asked the members of our So Should I Buy This? Facebook group to understand what the current needs our readers have for work clothes. I asked where they like to shop, what they actually wear and which items they find difficult to look for.
The current trend for office attire being more relaxed than ever was confirmed with one reader saying that they “wouldn’t wear heels to work but sometimes need to be more formal than trainers, especially in the summer.” One comment encapsulated a need for our clothes to work harder for us and be as versatile as possible: “My normal wardrobe transcends into work wear and vice versa.”
However, there was still some need to look smart when required: “I want something casual yet dressed enough that I feel productive and professional and get on a Skype call without having to get changed.” Another reader also pointed out that context is everything saying that what they wear “tends to depend on whether or not I’m visiting a client.” Clearly, a smart-casual approach to shopping for work clothes is key.
Lastly, I found that what most struggled with was where to buy shoes that were smart and comfortable: “I find shoes the most difficult thing to buy. I need a block heel for walking and still look good in the office. Anything else is impractical for travelling and needs to stay put on my foot easily when walking. Finding ones I like with the right kind of heel is a bit of a nightmare.”
Taking into account what our readers need and the new relaxed rules on dressing, I’ve created an edit of the best stores to shop for work clothes. These are places that offer versatile and quality basics, suits that aren’t just office-appropriate and shoes that will be kind to your feet and still look great when you’re sitting in a meeting.
Arket—sister store to H&M, COS and & Other Stories—is ideal for finding quality basics. T-shirts, blazers and shirt dresses are some of the pieces we’d go for.
For basics that work for all weather, you want Uniqlo. Whether it’s layering Heattech tops during the winter or wearing the waterproof jackets for spring showers, these pieces are durable, stylish and versatile.
As someone who’s a bit shorter (I’m 5’3″), I have to be careful with COS, as some of the clothes can swamp me. That said, I love the utilitarian design and I can’t resist the jumpsuits, bags and shoes. The ballet pumps, in particular, are great as they have a tiny heel which makes them feel smarter than regular flats.
This high-street store’s latest drop of brightly coloured suits is a win for more interesting summer office outfits. It’s also great for outside of work and is ideal for as a wedding-guest outfit when paired with metallic heels.
Cefinn really delivers when it comes to dresses that are smart but not boring. Choose from sleeveless midi dresses to long-sleeved frocks that come in bold colours with puffed sleeves. It’s an ideal brand if you want to stay covered up but want to make more of a statement.
If you still need to find a place for more traditional work clothes, then Joseph is a good option. Yes, the prices are higher but buy them once as an investment and you’ll wear them over and over. Black trousers, loafers and a bag are the items I’d choose for maximum cost-per-wear points.
It’s already been established that work clothes don’t have to be stiff and uncomfortable. However, they do need to be smart. Massimo Dutti is a great brand that offers a relaxed preppy look. Linen shirts and culottes are brilliant to dress up with a low pair of heels and blazer for work and then sneakers for the weekend.
If you’re truly bored with your work outfits, one of the best stores to find quality pieces that are fun is Uterqüe. Go here for blouses that make an impact, and wear them with jeans and a jacket.
On our Facebook group, So Should I Buy This?, many pointed out that they had difficulty in finding smart shoes that were easy to walk in. In my opinion, Marks and Spencer does some of the comfiest heels around on the high street. Plus they come in so many different styles that you’d be hard-pressed to find some you don’t like. Right now, slingbacks, block-heel and flatform sandals are ideal for that smart summer look.
If you’re more of a dress person, Warehouse is one of the best stores for affordable dresses. Try one of the midis for an easy office look, and then rewear it for a summer garden party or a night out.
As jeans are becoming much more of an office staple, it makes sense to include one of the best stores to find quality denim: & Other Stories. The shop offers an array of styles, but for a smarter take on jeans, opt for a classic blue pair that’s slightly tapered and has a proper hem (no loose threads). Just wear with a plain T-shirt or white shirt and blazer. Bonus tip: & Other Stories also does great knitwear.