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Up-Level Your WFH Style

The pandemic has brought Working From Home to a whole new level. Without having the structure of an office setting, it can be tempting to keep those pajamas on all day. This perk can turn into a bad habit. To discuss WFH style (and why it even matters) Whole U. hosted two experts on the topic: 

  • Lisa Ann Santin is a closet transformer, podcast creator, wardrobe magician and ethical fashion advocate. She acknowledged the challenge that Covid has presented for stylists - namely that people are no longer “dressing for the office” - but the standards of “professional attire” do still exist. 
  • Jeff Lahens is the CMO of 9Tailors. Awarded “best menswear designer in Boston,” Jeff describes himself as a stylish minimalist, and speaks passionately about the personal brand of each individual he works with.    

As a warm-up exercise, Whole U.’s Founder Shannon O’Brien asked the community to share their thoughts on whether people prefer to work with someone who appears to be “glammed and glossy,” or  “comfy and unfiltered.” (She had conducted an informal poll on LinkedIn with the below photos, and the unanimous preferences was the more "polished" photo).

After some back and forth, community members agreed that a middle ground would be best. For example, one member said that while she chose to wear a blazer in her current LinkedIn photo, she would prefer to have a more casual/ creative photo, given how rarely she actually appears that way for work. 

Lisa revealed that when she meets people in person for the first time, she sometimes can hardly recognize that they are the same person from their profile image, because they look so different. Therefore, she feels what is most important, is to appear polished and elevated, yet authentic, and yes - recognizable to a stranger. The balance should be what we are striving for. 

Jeff explained that, as a black man, he does not feel that he has the privilege to even consider “dressing down” in his profile photo, for an interview, or for a business meeting.  If he wears a hoodie, he could be seen as a threat, rather than a qualified professional. A 2019 study showed that black women In the workplace are frequently expected to style their hair in a way that is far from their natural appearance. This was an important reminder to think about how our clothing may influence people's perceptions. 

The New Normal 

It’s inevitable - our WFH life will not resemble our typical office life. Kids will pop into our screens, dogs will bark, and most people won’t be seeing your waist-down clothing. Lisa stresses that our style should communicate to our colleagues that we do “mean business.” If your style and surroundings are well thought out in advance, people will be more forgiving about the unavoidable interruptions. (We are - at home afterall!)      


Because we feel overwhelmed with the state of our world - the pandemic, social and political unrest, and the accompanying uncertainty - it’s not surprising that many of us have placed our fashion choices on the back burner. Lisa advises us to start small with little routines that will give us some kind of control. The ritual of getting up in the morning and getting dressed can put us in the right mindset to get through the day invigorated, ratherthan just going through the motions until 5 pm rolls around. 

Jeff admits that seeing someone’s personal style through a computer screen is not as impactful as it is when face to face. Still, he thinks your personal style is something that makes you unique, and should be honored. This doesn’t mean that lots of money must be spent to achieve a glossy look. To that point, Lisa suggests we: 

  • Shop our own closets, to find pieces that may have been forgotten, but can be repurposed to be “Zoom-worthy.” 
  • Get creative: what old accessories can you use to draw attention to your features? These little additions can make it clear that you put in a bit of effort to appear professional. 

Know Your Audience 

Lisa and Jeff recognize that all professions come with their own personal style: An executive at JP Morgan is going to dress differently than a marketing agent for a streetwear company. 

When interviewing virtually, appear as you would if the meeting was in person. Jeff recommends taking it one step further, and prepping for your interview while in the outfit you have chosen to wear for your interview. Just how athletes practice in their uniforms, this will allow you to feel comfortable with your choices so when the event happens, you can focus on the content, and minimize any outfit related distractions. 

Do your homework:

  • Look at how your coworkers appear on their LinkedIn page
  • Does your company have an Instagram? 
  • How do people dress in the office setting? 
  • The data is out there, it just takes a little bit of effort on your part to feel prepared and project appropriate expertise in your industry.

Evaluate your surroundings: 

The key to looking professional is preparation, and intentionality. If you devote time and energy to looking polished, people will notice. We want your colleagues to focus on YOU and your content, not the distractions of your surroundings . . . 

  1. How does your background appear on camera? 
  2. How is the lighting in the room? 
  3. If your kitchen has the best lighting - you could conduct Zoom meetings from there. (Just make sure the background is clear of dirty dishes!) 
  4. Ring lights and other gadgets can enhance your results. . . But again, there’s no need to purchase anything new. Borrow a lamp from a different room, sit near a window, or even be outside during the day. 


Why It Matters

Your style matters because it’s a large part of your personal and professional brand. It’s the image that comes to peoples’ minds when they hear your name. It shows that you are confident in your work and assured in who you are. Jeff compares getting dressed up to that feeling you get when you leave a yoga class or any workout - that the effort was worth it! 

Your colleagues will likely appreciate the extra effort you made too - as it shows a level of respect for whatever meeting you are signing into. The oft-heard saying of “dress for the job you want” still rings true in today’s virtual work style. Your style choices can remind you of where you want to take your career. 

Shannon shared that her mother, an Operating Room Nurse for ~35 years, would wake very early each morning, to do her hair, and put on a full face of makeup, to then drive to work . . . and get fully covered in her face mask, scrubs, and hat. One could definitely argue that this sounds like a waste of time. However, it is an example of how style choices can be about how it makes us feel. In this case, it didn’t matter that her coworkers weren’t going to recognize the effort she made - it made her feel ready for the day, and ready to do her job. 

So as you begin the process of (re)discovering your personal brand, be sure to ask yourself what feels most authentic:

  • What is comfortable, but is still in line with your brand? 
  • What excites you?
  • What makes you feel empowered? 

Lisa’s final caution was about the “Pajamfication” of our society. The way that people are showing up to important events - from Shivas and funerals to job interviews - we are all getting more and more casual. We are getting looser with the social norms of what it means to be “presentable,” and she sees it as a lost opportunity. Showing respect for our style gives us a higher level of self-worth and exudes strength to those around us. 

Another Way to Look at This . . .

One community member bravely shared that she understands “why it matters,” but believes that there are too many challenges blocking her ability to “up-level her WFH Style.” Lisa reminded the group that styling routines can begin at your local Savers, or even a friend’s closet. It can be affordable, easy, and fun, and it does not need to be overwhelming or frustrating. 

Challenge of The Month

As with every Whole U. class, there came a “challenge of the month” at the end:

  1. For the next two weeks, Monday - Friday, get OUT of your pajamas, and into a professional outfit. 
  2. Do you feel more focused? More productive?
  3. Share the challenge with your peers to notice the power that “Up-Leveling Your WFH Style” can have on your work, and your spirit. 

Community Invitation 

This Whole U. meeting, hosted by founder Shannon O’Brien, created a space for people to discuss their challenges with being "camera ready" while working from home.

Consider joining a Whole U. Event!

These classes cover a variety of topics related to wellness, career and service, and take place on the last Sunday of every month.

Join today: https://www.wholeu.info/Events


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