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How to dress while working from home, according to the experts

Fashion experts and psychologists discuss the best way to dress while working from home.
Young woman using laptop at home
Fashion experts weigh in on the pros and cons of dressing up for work while working at home.Getty Images stock

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/ Source: TODAY
By Chrissy Callahan

It can be tempting to fall into a uniform of sweatpants and pajamas when working from home for an extended time. And while there's something to be said for relaxing your style when you don't need to adhere to an office dress code, some folks actually prefer to get dressed up to maintain a sense of normalcy.

As more Americans adjust to working from home while coronavirus spreads across the nation, TODAY Style consulted style experts and psychologists to see how the clothes we wear influence our mood. They're breaking down the pros and cons of each approach and sharing a few tips for working from home to help you navigate.

It can be tempting to just stay in your pajamas all day while working from home, but should you?Getty Images stock

The argument to keep it cozy and casual

In general, most employers won't care what you're wearing when you work from home — as long as you get the work done. And besides, taking a few days to stay cozy can be good for your mental health, especially during these stressful times.

"We are all going through an unprecedented and stressful time in history," said Rheeda Walker, a professor of psychology at the University of Houston and director of the school's Culture, Risk and Resilience Lab. "If folks aren't up for dressing for the cyber world as they would in the office, that is completely understandable. We can cut ourselves some slack if, mentally, we're just not up for the pomp and circumstance."

Getting dressed up for work normally helps us go through the motions and prepare for the day ahead, but establishing a new routine can sometimes free up more time and inspire productivity.

"On days when you do not need to interface visually with clients or coworkers, I think wearing your favorite sweats can feel incredibly relaxing and put you in the perfect serene mood to dive in and get a ton of work done with maybe a bit of extra time to meditate or do yoga somewhere in your day," said Leesa Evans, a Hollywood costume designer and private stylist.

For many women, dressing down at home gives them more time and energy to complete other tasks. "It’s a time saver. Let’s face it: Most women spend at least an hour to get completely dressed. Sweats and leggings don’t even require ironing. So you can get an early start to your busy day," said Mitali Saxena, CEO of fashion subscription service Fashom.

Like many of us, Amy Ankeles, 32, recently started working from home as coronavirus began to spread. The New York City resident has found some creative ways to look professional while also staying comfy. "My work from home style is lovingly referred to as a 'work from home mullet': It's business on top and party on the bottom. And party to me equals ultimate comfort," she told TODAY Style.

She lovingly refers to her work from home look as a "mullet."Amy Ankeles

Ankeles puts on a top she'd regularly wear to the office, some earrings and very minimal makeup. To round out the look, she throws on some sweatpants and slippers on bottom. "This way, when I video conference with colleagues, I fully look like I'm dressed for the day. Little do they know I'm in half pajamas — except I tell everyone anyway," she said.

The marketing professional is trying to keep a positive outlook and is embracing the work from home lifestyle so far. "I'm loving that I get to wear leggings or sweats and my slippers. And that I don't have to spend time trying on different outfits every morning," she said. "I'm nervous for when we go back to work, though, and I can no longer wear elastic waistbands."

The marketing professional keeps things professional on the top and opts for a more casual style on the bottom.Amy Ankeles

The argument to dress for success while working from home

Adjusting to working from home can be challenging, and some prefer to dress up to somewhat maintain their daily routine.

"It may have been something you took for granted before, but getting dressed for work is something that helps us so much on a daily basis," Saxena said. "Besides being a way to express your individual sense of style, getting dressed for work sets the tone for your day."

Since your normal routine is interrupted when you work from home, it can help you feel more at ease to wear something a bit closer to what you'd normally wear at the office.

"Keeping a routine helps us maintain a sense of control and degree of normality in times when we are feeling a lack of control, which leads to stress and even anxiety," professor Carolyn Mair, author of "The Psychology of Fashion," said. "What matters more than the actual garments we wear is that they help us feel good."

If you're working while kids and pets are in the house, getting decked out in full-on boardroom attire might not be the most practical option. But something like a blouse and dressy leggings can be a nice transitional outfit. "Dressing pulled together helps us feel pulled together. Research has found that people feel more competent when wearing business clothes," psychologist Cathleen Swody said.

Since you don't have to worry about dress codes while working from home, stylists say this is the perfect time to experiment with your look.

"You have more time to shop your own closet and test drive creative combos. Rediscover that vintage dress you used to love, or figure out how to finally make that blouse with the tags still on work as an outfit," Kesha Linder, merchandiser at online thrift store thredUP, said. "A business-casual look will also keep you feeling productive while working from home. Pair your favorite jeans and T-shirt with a blazer or, if you’d like a simple yet put-together look, throw on your favorite jumpsuit."

Naturally, we all love to feel comfortable, so opting for looks that combine fashion and function can help you get the best of both worlds. "Start by looking for the pieces in your closet that are professional yet made in a stretchy fabric. Stretch fabrics are so popular now so many of us have everything from stretch pants and skirts to knit sweaters, shirts and blazers," Evans said.

Why you should dress for your mood

The great thing about fashion is that you can always switch up your look based on your mood. While working from home, you'll likely have days where you just don't feel like getting dressed up. And that's totally OK!

"These are uncertain times and clothing can be a source of comfort, whether that means putting on your softest sweats and favorite cashmere sweater or your brand new slip dress that you haven’t had the chance to wear out of the house yet," Linder said. "If I’m feeling down, I usually dress up to feel more put together. Tuning in to how you feel each morning can help you dress for success during this uncertain time."

As with most things, figuring out your ideal work from home style is all about balance and the most important thing is to establish a regular routine.

"Try to change into work clothes the same time you would if you were headed to the office. And change out of your work clothes when you would return home from the office. These changes shift our mental states and draws a boundary between work and home," Swody said. "A challenge in working from home is disengaging from work. Changing clothes will help you feel like you’re not always working."

And don't forget to have fun! "Try to switch up the looks so loungewear doesn't become your everyday look. Make a game out of it for yourself. Moody Monday is loungewear day, wink at me Wednesday can be a super sassy look, and so on," celebrity stylist Alison Brooks said.

Why you should choose colors to boost your mood

Have you ever noticed that we often dress in colors that reflect our mood? While it might sound trivial, using color to give yourself a boost can make a world of difference in how you feel.

"You might not want or need to dress up as much as you might in an office or seeing a client, however, your personal mood is affected by the colors around you," Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute told TODAY.

When you need to get up and moving (physically or mentally), Eiseman suggests rocking warm tones like orange, red, yellow or reddish-purples. When it's time to slow things down for the day, cooler tones can be super relaxing.

"Generally, hotter shades like orange, red, yellow or reddish-purples are connected to activity and are really good to get you moving and get your adrenaline pumping. The cooler shades, like blues or blue-greens, are more relaxing. You need to choose what works best for your needs at a given time."

How to use color to boost your mood:

  • Add color with accessories: "Tie a ribbon in your topknot or make a headband out of a bright ribbon. And add a bright necklace," Brooks suggested.
  • Mix neutrals and bold colors: If you feel best in your trusty jeans, wear some color in your T-shirt or top. If whatever you're wearing is pretty colorless, throw a vibrant scarf around your shoulders or wear some colorful flip-flops or fuzzy slippers. Even the color of your socks — especially if you are not wearing shoes — can help lift a mood," Eiseman said.
  • Perk up your makeup look: "Red lips can brighten your face and outfit. Also, I suggest getting ... a super cute outfit on and set up times with a few friends to FaceTime chat. Do this at least three times a week. Keep connected. Play and laugh and try new looks.”