Work from home clothing etiquette

Work from home clothing etiquette

Q. It seems silly to think about this now, but it takes my mind off other concerns for a bit. Like many, I am now working from home with video conferencing, and while I’m not wearing pajamas and a robe, putting on my usual tie and jacket seems a little ridiculous. Business casual doesn’t come naturally to me, any suggestions?

A. Certainly clothing, beyond safety choices, is a secondary concern at this time, but I too hope to provide a distraction as much as helpful advice. Video-conferencing attire and etiquette certainly is not a new topic for many professionals, but it is now a new reality for millions. Like you, many are unaccustomed to meeting remotely (at least outside the office).

As with all professional attire, whether in person or by video chat, your position and those on the other side of the meeting still serve as your first considerations. If you are working with clients in a field where they would expect to see you in a tie, particularly if they view your home office as a professional setting, a tie may still be correct; but I doubt that anyone else would realistically expect to see you wearing a tie. I think that dressing one or two steps down from your usual office attire makes more sense.

For conferencing with colleagues from your home, where a tie seems too formal, as you suggest, business casual is the best choice. Generally this breaks down to the following choices:


  • All standard dress shirts, except dressy white and light blue broadcloth with French cuffs can be worn as business-casual attire; just wear them without a tie or with a tie that is not too formal. These include every solid-color dress shirt as well as the many subtle shirt patterns from Oxford cloth stripes to tattersalls and small plaids. They can all go with (but don’t require) a jacket.
  • For men who often are uncomfortable matching certain brighter or more patterned shirts with ties, this is a great (well, unfortunate, but appropriate) time to show those off. It adds a little variety and/or brightness to the time. Back in the days when everyone dressed more formally for business, there was a category of dress shirts that were brighter in color and/or bolder in pattern than the typical business/dress shirts; they were referred to as “blazer shirts.” Cut exactly like a dress shirt, but because the fabric was different, they came off as too informal for wearing with a business suit. These types of shirts are perfect choices to wear open at-the-neck or with a simple, solid-color tie (perhaps a knit). Wear them with or without a jacket (a navy blazer or a quiet tweed sports jacket).
  • Even less formal shirts can fit the business-casual category. Sport shirts, as long as they have a collar and long sleeves, will work. So will a well-cut knit polo shirt.
  • Fleece or flannel shirts are probably as informal as business casual should ever go. They may well be too casual for some more serious industries.

The next step down, T-shirts, are too relaxed to maintain any sort of professional vibe (an exception could be when they are layered under a jacket).

If you are not expecting a video conference, having a well-pressed shirt prepared is still a good idea. At some time, you may have to take a last-minute video call with someone at your company or with a client. If you are still in your pajamas, having an ironed shirt to throw on will alleviate any stress you may feel at that moment.


  • While I think a suit is overkill, a navy blazer or a tweed sports jacket is nicely professional.
  • A sweater can often substitute for a jacket when you are working from home. It can be any style, from a V-neck vest to a cardigan, or a zippered front.

In most instances, the camera will not show below your waist, but you should still avoid PJs (or less!). You do not want to need to cross the room and show off your sweats or PJ bottoms . . . okay, maybe that might add some levity, but it’s not quite professional. You certainly could take this opportunity to wear some of your out-of-style pleated pants, etc. to determine if you really think they are worth keeping/tailoring when you are back to wearing them out of the house.

Note: Meticulous grooming becomes even more important now. With barber shops closed and a good haircut impossible to come by, maintaining an overall neat appearance is difficult. Well-thought-out clothing choices and careful grooming are helpful.

By the way, regarding those walks away from the camera and the background that is visible, most conference software now has a focus option to blur the room behind you. This helps if you’d rather not concern yourself with others’ seeing the cleanliness and art choices behind you.

On the other hand, for those working from home without any video-conferencing possibilities, there are still useful clothing suggestions. Resist any no-shower, sweats-all-day temptations. I really believe it is true that people are more productive when they are dressed for the part, that is, when they are wearing actual clothes. I’m certainly not saying you need to wear a suit and tie, but surely steps up from pajama bottoms and an old T-shirt should be your plan. Comfort is important, so jeans, khakis, neat polo shirts, and sweaters are all great options. You can keep the slippers or sneakers, though, if you like.

It takes some planning to maximize your productivity and stay sane while cooped up at home. So, here are a few tips on how to make your WFH days successful. Settle in, grab some coffee, and have a realistic plan.

Most advice will tell you to establish a routine: “Treat working from home like any regular work day.” This is true, but you need to find a routine that works for you. Structure is important; try getting up, getting ready, and going about your work day in a way that is somewhat similar to your previous schedule. Of course, I believe that part of getting ready is what you wear.

On NPR radio, I heard a well-known author and Professor of Fashion and Philosophy at the London College of Fashion, Shahidha Bari, discuss her book, “Dressed: A Philosophy of Clothes,” and the concept of how to dress when working from home. I particularly liked her primary piece of advice: In an effort to persuade people to resist remaining all day dressed in sweats, she recommends, “You must find at least one thing that has a button, snaps, or a zipper!” She went on to say, “Clothes are one of the ways we express ourselves,” and, “Anything we wear connects us to others.” That all seems to agree with my no PJ’s rule.

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