Like most writers, I work from home. Unfortunately, my ‘office’ is about the size of a shoebox so, in an ordinary reality, I would have escaped my tiny space and worked at the local Starbucks.
I live in Ontario, Canada and we’re currently fighting the third wave of COVID-19 (did we ever beat the first?). This means lockdown. Lockdown means paralyzing stress, working from my shoebox, and pajamas.
As comfy as they are, pajamas don't ignite my inner businesswoman. Instead, they prepare me for a day of slothing around.
For the sake of my productivity, I’ve been trying to feel less sloth-like and more human in the past couple of weeks.
First, I tried establishing a daily cleaning schedule which has made me feel better. Next, I’ve decided that I need to combat this pajama problem.
I recently showed up to an afternoon Zoom meeting wearing a tank top because the heat is still on in my apartment. Meanwhile, the person I was speaking with wore a sophisticated nude blazer and a white t-shirt - an outfit I would call smart casual. She looked just as comfortable as I did but ready to take on the day.
I had gotten up at six-thirty that morning but it felt like I had just crawled out of bed. It was time for a change. I decided that I would trade in my boyfriend’s boxers and my raggedy tank tops for smart casual attire for at least a week.
The challenge: Finding smart casual in a bohemian closet
When I typed ‘smart casual’ into the Pinterest search bar in hopes of gaining an understanding of the style, I saw a lot of button-downs, blazers, and slacks.
Unfortunately, none of these live in my closet (apart from one pair of pre-quarantine slacks that can no longer make it over my butt). I wondered if I even had the tools to experiment with smart casual.
My summer closet is full of color, prints, and flowy silhouettes. It’s what I would call bohemian. Bohemian fashion, which I love so much, is usually associated with the 1960s and 70s hippie movement. As a rebellion against the style of the time, bohemian fashion is artistic and relaxed. Loose-fitting, layered garments with mixed prints and vibrant colors are common. Think peasant tops and harem pants.
As much as I love my flowy summer dresses and my bold prints, they encourage me to take a long meandering walk in my favorite neighborhood and not necessarily to take control and conquer my to-do list.
Because bohemian fashion differs so much from what I understood as smart casual, I was unsure of how to use the clothes in my closet to create ensembles that would be suitable for this experiment.
I needed some help understanding exactly how to elevate my style and hopefully, in effect, elevate my productivity.
Oliver Charles had published the blog post I needed for my objective.
In ‘What is Smart Casual’, they simplified the concept for me and defined it as a “crossover between workwear and street style…It’s the ultimate, unique mix and match style that’s based on elevating wardrobe basics, like jeans, running shoes, and t-shirts then matching them with business-appropriate staples like sweaters, a blazer, or a button-down.”
That explanation from Oliver Charles made the task of creating smart-casual outfits far less daunting.
Instead of adhering to a strict set of rules, I simply needed to elevate my everyday wear. That seemed possible by adding high-quality accessories, creating sophisticated, tailored lines.
Even though, as mentioned, I don’t own any blazers or button-downs, some of the most popular smart-casual staples, I own cardigans and shirts that are well-fitting and made out of high-quality fabrics. Smart casual was doable for me and it’s likely doable for you too. Last Monday, my transformation began!
On Monday, it was hard not to reach for a pair of pajamas or simply walk around in underwear. It was a pretty hot sunny day and I was craving comfort. For that reason, I chose my flowy wide-leg trousers.
They’re extremely comfortable and I love the pattern on them. It’s quite busy and fun which represents my style yet the cut is classic and creates a lovely shape, cinching at the waist and flowing outward at the hip.
I paired my pants with a plain black shirt as they were amusing enough to be the statement piece of my outfit. To complete the look, I added a brown leather belt and my heeled mules from Lulu’s for going out - A belt and a nice pair of shoes can go a long way in terms of creating a smart-casual outfit.
Usually, I would have worn these pants with a tank top, no belt, and my Tom’s which are older than God. That sort of outfit looks and feels more like loungewear than well-put-together work attire. With just a couple of minor adjustments, the outfit was transformed.
I’d say day one was a success both fashion-wise and productivity-wise. I certainly felt ready to start my week but of course, the sunshine could have played a part in that.
Tuesday was a rough day. It was one of those days where you do all the right things (get up early, caffeinate, and open the laptop) yet, you just don’t feel right and it’s hard to get started.
I felt like slipping into a muumuu-like garment but I was determined to continue my challenge so, I chose a dress that had the loose-fitting feel that I crave on bad days yet still looked put together.
I chose this jade green dress that I thrifted a couple of years ago. It fits like a muumuu which is just what I wanted but the breast pockets, collar, and buttons remind me of a nice blouse which made me feel a bit more put together and ready to work. I paired it with a pair of brown leather sandals from Crown Vintage and my matching purse that I thrifted.
One very simple way to elevate your outfit from casual to smart casual is to pay attention to the quality of the materials you choose. I chose to add some of my favorite, high-quality leather pieces to the ensemble which made my dress feel even more work-ready.
Perhaps the troubles of the day show in my wrinkly dress, my slightly ashy legs, and my unpolished toenails but I felt an instant boost when I got dressed for the day. I finished everything on my to-do list despite the difficult start.
I began to see the benefits of getting dressed in smart casual attire on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, I had a couple of errands to run. I wanted to wear something simple and practical that allowed freedom of movement. I went for a pair of jade green Northern Reflections shorts that I thrifted years ago. I paired them with a blue long-sleeved shirt with a boat neckline that I find very flattering.
It’s a classic neckline that elongates the neck and subtly emphasizes the bustline. Another way to elevate an outfit is by choosing timeless silhouettes.
For shoes, I chose my simple black sandals from Josef Seibel which can be worn with nearly any summer outfit.
To polish off the look, I added my brown leather belt and my everyday purse from JW PEI.
Doing my errands, I felt confident and well-put-together yet not out of place. Though all the pieces I wore were understated, as an ensemble, they became one of my favorite smart casual outfits of the week.
Wednesday’s outfit reminded me to appreciate some of the more simple pieces in my wardrobe.
With simplicity comes versatility which makes for the perfect starting point to elevate our basics and create a stylish smart-casual look.
Thursday was another beautiful sunny day. I spent a lot of time out on the balcony with my laptop and my cat, Maud (who’s trying to eat my flowers in the background). I felt like dressing up. I chose a thrifted light denim skirt, a green cami, and a thrifted grey cardigan. I added my heeled mules that have been a staple throughout this smart-casual experiment and a cream belt.
I wear all of these pieces quite often but they don’t usually come together this way. Once again just a few elegant touches like a belt, a tucked-in shirt, a cardigan, and a simple, classic pair of shoes really elevated my outfit and transformed it into an ensemble I felt proud of.
A couple of days ago, I thought it was time for a shopping trip. Perhaps part of the reason why I threw on pajamas every day (for probably an entire year) is that I’ve found myself in a fashion rut.
My immediate reaction to that situation is to look for new clothing but I’ve learned that the first place I should shop is my own closet.
If you’re experiencing the same sort of slump, I suggest seeking inspiration online or in your favorite magazine before exploring the depths of your closet and using your creativity to revamp some of your existing pieces.
In my online search, I found that outfits from Pinterest boards like Elegant Mind stood out to me.
Elegant Mind features a variety of smart casual outfits that cater to different style preferences and even helpful pointers for career development.
I also love to check out daily curations from Tendances de Mode. Though not all of the pieces featured there fall under the smart-casual category, this website is a great fashion resource that will encourage you to play with the basics that most of us already have sitting in our closets and create something completely new.
On Friday, I think I put together my favorite outfit of the entire week. It might be my favorite because it includes one of my most prized possessions: A black Hollywood Era denim skirt I thrifted several years ago. It fits me like a glove and wearing it always boosts my confidence.
I usually wear this skirt with sandals or sneakers but pairing it with, you guessed it, my trusty heeled-mules transformed the outfit.
My basic but well-fitting striped Denver Hayes shirt fit in perfectly with the simple elegance theme I was going for with durable material and a classic scoop neckline.
This outfit was my favorite because I really felt like myself wearing it. In fact, I felt like a more motivated and in-control version of myself.
In my mind’s eye, I could see myself strolling into my dream office with a fancy bag I don’t have yet ready to create something I’m proud of.
During my fashion slump, I’d forgotten how powerful clothing is regarding the way we feel about ourselves and the work that we do. This is the outfit that reminded me of that power.
In the end, the outcome of this eye-opening experiment was very positive.
The process was a lot less difficult than I thought it would be for a couple of reasons:
I took a little time to prepare myself beforehand. I consulted Pinterest for inspiration in search of ideas that might work for me. Then, I went shopping in my own closet in order to get familiar with what I already have and avoid wasting money or space buying new pieces.
Not only is your wallet or the space in your home a concern when it comes to purchasing new clothing but the effects of fast fashion on our environment should be taken into consideration.
I certainly don’t manage to purchase the most sustainable options all the time for budget reasons, but thrifting instead of buying mass-produced clothing whenever I can is a priority for me.
Thrifting reduces pollution and waste but the most sustainable clothing habit is shopping in your own closet as re-donating clothes to thrift stores can enable processes that are harmful to the environment.
Only a small percentage of donated clothes are re-sold but the majority are shipped abroad to be reused, an operation that can be extremely energy-intensive.
Thanks to information from Oliver Charles, who demonstrates their expertise in smart casual fashion through their simple, versatile, and high-quality sweaters, I had a little guidance through this experiment.
Once I knew what clothing I owned and found ideas on how to style them in a smart-casual fashion, I had an easy time with the rest.
That little bit of effort was worth it in my experience. I’ve had too many depressing mornings this year where I’d gotten out of bed fully intending to get lots of things done yet felt so demotivated by my crippling stress or whatever else holds me back on bad days.
This experiment certainly didn’t get rid of the anxiety of my everyday life; however, I felt more prepared to take on challenges that presented themselves during the week.
My positive experience with dressing well for work doesn’t seem to be unique according to research. An organizational psychology study that examined employee self-perceptions regarding workplace attire claims that “an individual's sense of appropriateness of their attire has a significant impact on their attitude and performance.”
Though I love pajamas and loungewear (I have an entire Pinterest board devoted to them), I’ve never thought of them as the appropriate work attire for a professional writer.
So, when I showed up to do my work disheveled or looking ready for bed, it’s no surprise, according to the aforementioned study, that I had a difficult time feeling good about my daily tasks.
By simply dedicating a couple of minutes to take care of myself and dress in a way that aligns with my identity and my goals, I noticed a drastic improvement in my mindset and in effect, my productivity.
As I share this experience with you, I’m wearing a sundress that I love. I don’t think I’ll stop my wardrobe transformation here. If you work from home in pajamas every day and you’re starting to feel dissatisfied, you might find that a smart-casual fashion tune-up could restore your motivation and confidence.