Versatility is more important than ever, according to John Lewis which has observed the increasing demand for clothes, including trenchcoats and Mary Jane flats, that can be worn at the weekend and at the office. “Things are merging more,” says Queralt Ferrer, the department store’s fashion director. “People are wearing denim with a blazer to the office.”
My latent yearning for an outfit divide is a backward step, says Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School and author of Redesigning Work: How to Transform Your Organisation and Make Hybrid Work for Everyone. “We have multiple selves. Each could have their own outfit,” she says. “The main differential is not home versus the office but client-facing versus non-client-facing,” she says. As she points out, the office is just one element of work.
This perspective is backed by personal stylist Henry Wilfrid. When he meets his clients, who predominantly work in professional services, he asks them to fill out a pie chart to determine what proportion of their days are spent at a desk, presentations and meetings. Typically only a tiny amount requires a “killer look”, which might come down to styling with jewellery, a smart jacket or immaculate hair. “Polish is not so much the clothes but grooming and care,” he says.
One aspect that his clients are reluctant to give up is comfort. “We’ve become used to not putting on a narrow pointed shoe or a piece of tailoring that cuts you at the waist when sitting down,” he says.
Reflecting on my former work-home wardrobe divide, I realise that it was wasteful to segment, and left so many clothes unworn. If I could learn to switch off from work at the weekend – difficult with a smartphone always at hand – then maybe I could overcome my rigidity about my outfits divide. Just don’t let Zuckerberg know he was right all along.
Emma Jacobs © 2023 The Financial Times