Dressing for the Job: Are Comfort and Professionalism at Odds?

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It’s one of those social conventions you don’t question until you’re working from home: why are you required to wear stiff constricting clothing when working? Is the point to punish you into being more productive? Wouldn’t you work better if you – you know – felt good?

These are good questions to ask. While there are a few companies pushing toward a more relaxed dress code, the majority of professional workplaces like to see you in collared shirts, ironed pants and unforgiving shoes. Thankfully, there are compromises – products that look fantastic up-close or in a Zoom meeting, but feel as comfortable as your weekend attire.

Here are a few dress tips to keep you comfortable while still impressing the boss.

Merino Wool Button-Ups Are the Perfect Top Compromise

If you can’t do away with the buttons, you can at least change up the material. While polyester can be constricting and cotton can be chilly, merino wool strikes the right balance. It’s comfy to the touch, drapes well, breathes in warm weather, and insulates in cold weather. It’s quite simply the closest thing you’ll get to a hug while working at home. For merino a button-up that looks sophisticated and feels great, try this one: unboundmerino

Don’t Dig Your Heels in on Uncomfortable Shoes

If you’re wearing shoes, wear comfortable shoes. This NYMag article, with contributions from people who stand for work, lists several of the best comfortable/professional shoes. You’ll notice a trend reading through them – it’s all about the right heel support. Those Italian leather dress shoes may look stylish, but the wooden heels on them can cause major discomfort after a while.

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Of course, if you’re working from home right now – as many people are – consider foregoing shoes altogether. No one’s going to see your feet in a video chat anyways.

Don’t Discount the Power of Comfy Underwear and Socks

If you really want to be comfortable, pay special attention to your base layer, as that’s your body’s first point of contact. Plus, no one will see them at work (or, at least, hopefully not), so you can go as comfy as you want. For socks and underwear, again, merino wool is king. Likewise if you want to wear a base shirt underneath your dress shirt – merino’s the way to go.

There’s Nothing in the Rulebook About Elastic Waste Bands

If you can find a pant that looks stylish but has either an elastic or drawstring wasteband, go for it. If you can’t, at least be mindful of the fit. A relaxed fit chino or khaki is going to be more comfortable than a traditional dress pant nine times out of ten, with little difference in appearance.

To answer the question posed in the title: no, comfort and professionalism are not at odds. With the right materials and heel support, you can – and should – be comfortable at work. And if you work from home right now, ditch the tie.


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