You are currently viewing How to Master the  Challenge of Back to Work Outfits
Lulu Roe abstract print fit-and-flare jersey dress, Hermes collier de chien bangles, SUNGAIT sunglasses, Nordgreen watch, Nine & Co pumps

Back to work outfits should make us think twice. Many of us have seen the situation as a return a week after giving birth (or in Europe-at-large after maternity leave), after the kids left the house, after being laid off, furloughed or unemployed, an international internship beyond academy, and/or after a divorce. We all think we know the situation from It’s just another Monday – Sunday is Funday – as well as from the first day after a vacation or staycation. However, after more than one-and-a-half year of teleworking from home in PJs (or a white button-down and leggings in zoom meetings), this return is different. Even when your job requires wearing a uniform! Read what the back to work dress challenge is, why and how to master it to look your best and feel comfortable in your back to work outfits.


  1. Professional Attire in Clothing History
  2. Why Do We Still Have Work Dress Codes?
  3. Potential Birthplaces of New Work Dress Codes
  4. Stylish Monday August Back to Work Outfits in the World
  5. References


Disclosure: This post has affiliate links.


Professional Attire in Clothing History

In the Old World, centuries of sumptuary laws ensured to differentiate between the different professions and recognize the societal class a person belonged too. What to wear when performing your job also determined what you wore off duty. A culture of societal expectation developed with respect to the image of the profession.

In the 18th century, the suit became the attire of the aristocrats’ and other Rich’ sons, who stood for the ideals of social equality, moral values, sobriety, and modesty and embraced practicality and the industrial development, i.e. the Industrial Revolution. They abandoned the velvet, silk, brocades and other adornments of their previous generations. As it often happens with fashion groups, over time the suit became mainstream.

In the 19th century, the suit became to go-to for the bourgeois men. The distinction from the suits of the aristocrats was in fabric quality and craftsmanship only. The suit distinguished the employee from the worker. When more women entered the job market, they wore skirt suits and pantsuits as work attire.


over 50 years old woman in back to work outfit with dress and vest
Lulu Roe abstract print fit-and-flare jersey dress, Hermes collier de chien bangles, Seiko watch, garnet earrings, Nine & Co zebra print pumps, and Ed Hardy sunglasses


In the 1960 and 1970s, another youth group again rebelled against the older generation. The Hippies culture introduced jean and T-shirt everywhere for everything. This generation also founded the startups of software companies and was central to the computer and digital revolution. As CEOs, they think they are too busy to care about their appearance, and are still wearing their jeans and Tees. The same generation’s women fought for wearing jeans and/or pants at school. Today, T-shirts and jeans are mainstream for everyone, but not (yet) a work dress code except as Casual Friday outfit.

Looking at the history of fashion of dress codes, casual style might be the next work dress code with posh casual for the corporate work field. Who knows?


Why Do We Still Have Work Dress Codes?

Some of the clothing is for practical reason and protection. Think the helmet of construction workers, the heat resistant attire of fire fighters, or sun protective glasses for astronauts.


women scientist in leather skirt, T-shirt, utility jacket
Unbranded leather skirt, Coach bag, Orvis utility jacket, Taylor’s Gold’n Stone smoky quartz necklace, Covered Perfectly shirt, Ivanka Trump ankle strap pumps, Hermes collier de chien bangle, Eagle Eyes sunglasses and watch  c/o Nordgreen


Uniforms indicate the corporate identity, identification and/or authority. Who would recognize a police (wo)man in civil clothing and respect them regulating the traffic? You wouldn’t follow the orders of a flag (wo)man when they wouldn’t wear the uniform of the DOT (Department of Transportation). Whom would you turn to at a restaurant for a refill or the spill kit, if the waiters/waitresses wouldn’t be recognizable?

Employers implement a dress code or appearance policy to ensure that their employees meet the expectations of potential customers or clients and fit the professional image of the company.


Different Office Dress Codes Today

No wonder that professions dealing with other people’s money want to convey the message that they are paying attention to details and are serious. Consequently, corporate style has the tightest, most formal work dress code with respect to colors, cuts of garments and grooming.


stylist featuring a back to work outfit with shirt dress
Side view office appropriate summer print shirt dress


classic shirt work dress
Banana Republic abstract print silk shirt dress, Sam Edelman bucket bag, Nine West pumps, emerald statement belt, Hermes collier de chien bangle, Nordgreen watch (Get 15% off with my discount code HLSTYLE.), Rebecca Collins necklace, DIY earrings, Eagle Eyes sunglasses


Business casual style is an informal office dress code. The attire is casual, but conservative. How conservative and how casual differs strongly among work fields, even within the same field, see for example, the dress codes in engineering. In general, the requirements also depend on whether or not, you have contact with clients/customers.


Just imagine buying a new car from a car dealer in a Pioneer times saloon girl attire!


The creative work field dress code leaves you the most freedom, but it has the highest pressure to express your creativity.


Potential Birthplaces of New Work Dress Codes

Historically, universities were strongly related to dress codes and changes in how the mainstream dressed in following decades. For instance, the preppy style developed from how the students of the Ivy League Universities dressed.

Universities are a strange fish when it comes to dressing. Only for commencement, it is clearly stated to wear full regalia. In labs, there may be certain safety dress codes. A reminder to follow them may read

Don’t look into the laser with your remaining eye.

Today, you can tell engineering faculty from faculty in the liberal arts, biology, chemistry and physical sciences based on their clothing. Sometimes the latter look like Scotty accidently beamed them from under the bridges of Paris on campus. It may be the attitude of intellectual freedom. Or, it might be the high workload expectations that make many hard science professors to just spend the minimum effort on dressing to not freeze to hypothermia in winter and not get into trouble with HR or campus police in summer. Female science students still fear to look their best.

For trends in fashion evolution, it’s the students, the young generation to whom you have to look to. There are the hipsters, athleisure wearers, sustainable  or vegan fashion wearers, the recyclers and up-cyclers. Sure, once in the work field, they will adapt the dress code. However, their current fashion will become mainstream over the next decades.


fashion influencer showing a return to the ofice outfit
Side view business casual separates


Stylist in return to work outfit separates
Louboutin pumps, J. Crew shirt, Rebecca Collins necklace, Hermes collier de chien bangle, Nordgreen watch, Sam Edelman studded shoulder bag, DIY skirt made from a men’s shirt (see link for how-to), DIY belt (all own) and sunglasses c/o SUNGAIT



Why You Should Check Your Work Wardrobe before Going Back to Work?

Most of us had built our spring/summer wardrobe already before COVID-19 shut down almost everything. Sure we bought trendy updates for work. Despite they will be “new” for your colleagues, check whether they are still trendy. At a certain age, wearing an outdated trend not only looks old-fashioned, but also conveys the (wrong) message that you are not up-to-date anymore or lost contact to reality. These messages can be adverse for your professional advancement because they might be associated with your professional knowledge and work performance as well.

Make sure your clothes send the message you want them to send.

Thus, as soon as you receive notification when you should come back to work instead of working from home, inspect your work wardrobe for fit and trends. Make a list of what is missing, a budget and update your wardrobe for fit, style and trends.

Learn How to Dress for Success in Midlife. Buy the book now.

Stylist tip: If this back to work is a new job, don’t buy a complete new wardrobe just yet. Instead dress in the first weeks on the job and create your work wardrobe as suggested in the linked post.


If your back-to-work is only partial, i.e., a mix of working from home and at the office, read these tips how to stay sane when you work hybrid.


Stylish Monday August Back to Work Outfits in the World

My blogging friends from Stylish Monday show further back to work outfits today. Visit their blogs or Instagram posts to see what their dress code demands. You will be astonished how different the back to work outfits are in the different professions, US states and continental Europe as well as the UK. Check it out, it’s fun.


stylish Monday hostesses presenting different back to work outfits
Hostesses of Stylish Monday. Visit their posts for more looks and details using their links at the party.


Back to Work Stylish Monday August Linkup Party Room


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This post was featured on Links à la Mode fashion roundup by Independent Fashion Bloggers.

More fashion articles:



Döbler, H., 1972. Kultur und Sittengeschichte der Welt – Kleidung, Mode, Schmuck. Bertelsmann Verlag, München, Germany.

Smithsonian, 2019. Women: Our Story. DK Publishing, New York.
TASCHEN (Editor), 2015. Fashion History from the 18th to the 20th Century, Bibliotheca Universalis.

Thompson Ford, R., 2021. Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History. Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Young, Caroline, 2016. StyleTribes, Frances Lincoln Ltd.


Photos of me: G. Kramm

© 2013-2022 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved

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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. aquamarinastyle

    I loved reading about the history through the centuries. It was all about men for sooo long, wasn’t it? Good advice, as always, Nicole.

    xx Darlene

  2. Wonderful tips, Nicole. And your outfit examples are fabulous.


  3. Jodie

    You always have such wonderful professional style Nicole,

  4. shelbeeontheedge1

    Nicole, I really enjoyed reading the history of business suits and how work wear style has been redefined with each new generation. I really like the bold outfits and print mixing that you wear for your work style, too. Really great post!


  5. Lucy Bertoldi

    Loving all your looks- especially with the mustard skirt!!

  6. Amy Johnson

    Lots of great office looks here!

  7. This is a much needed post. It can be hard to get back into the swing of things.