Working from home requires a certain kind of discipline. It tests the limits of restraint—from pillaging one's fridge, taking (multiple) midday naps, and conducting conference calls from the toilet. It takes a professional.
And there are plenty of them. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 3.7 million employees (2.8% of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time, while 50% of the American workforce holds a job with at least partial telework. That's a lot of people tempted to take Hulu breaks on the couch.
While it sounds seductive to have one’s pajamas put in some overtime, those who call their kitchen table their office know that wardrobe has a powerful ability to affect productivity. Just as you wouldn't want to work alongside a pile of dirty dishes (or, I dunno, maybe you would), you wouldn't conduct business in your ratty vintage Whitesnake T-shirt.
"A lot of working from home is setting boundaries," says Joshua David Stein, a freelance writer in Brooklyn. "Anything that can help you cross that line and 'go to work' is helpful so that you feel internally professional—otherwise it's just a continuation of domestic life."
No one dons a three-piece suit when punching in at their residence, but little changes to daywear can have dramatic effects. Stein, for example, doesn't wear what he normally would in an office setting, but he does separate more casual (though not sloppy) items for the workweek. Sometimes that means just mixing and matching the high and the low.
"If you wear sweatpants or joggers with a T-shirt, you are basically still in your pajamas," he says. "But if you pair sweatpants or joggers with a button-down, then you feel like you're a human being." Stein favors sophisticated and relaxed separates he can wear all day: "super high-quality" sweatpants from American Giant, Alex Mills tops, and Riviera shoes, which are "like espadrilles but a little more stylish."
Documentary producer Kristen Vaurio, who recently relocated to Los Angeles, emphasizes the need for simplicity as she juggles a hectic schedule that includes getting her kids out of the house, taking work calls, and tending to her projects (which have included Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief). As she puts it, every morning "starts with good intentions." Most often, she begins in exercise gear, then switches midday into jeans or easy dresses that can fulfill her need to work, walk around in the neighborhood, and take a meeting if necessary. Lucky for her, L.A. fashion errs on the side of casual.
"I'm always searching for the perfect jeans and T-shirt combo," she says. She tends to wear a lot of Kit and Ace tops, which she describes as "the softest T-shirts" with cool and interesting cuts. Her favorite shirt, however, is by the brand Jolie Laide (which means "pretty ugly" in French): "You can style it different ways and it always looks cool."
Comfort is also a top priority for Erin Boyle, author of Simple Matters: Living With Less and Ending Up With More, who splits her time between home and local coffee shops, especially during New York City's sweltering summer months. Her go-to is Nashville designer Elizabeth Suzann, who makes dresses in hemp gauze that make sticky days a bit more tolerable.
When Boyle is in the mood for pants, she swears by the brand Steven Alan, which sells styles that sit low on the hips, suitable for long hours at the computer.
"They're nice and loose but with enough structure to keep them from looking like pajamas," she says, noting that though she's worked in her nightgown before, she doesn't make it a ritual. "I feel so much better about my workday when I'm dressed and ready for anything . . . Still, I take some liberties that I might not be able to get away with in an office setting: I'm nearly always barefoot and makeup-less."
There is plenty of leeway afforded to a work-home life, but ultimately, many people seem to appreciate the distinction of clothing that instills a certain type of confidence. Or at the very least, permitting for the periodic coffee run. As Stein says, echoing the feelings of most people I interviewed for this story, "I don't want to go out and look like someone who works from home."
Here are a few brands that combine comfort with sophisticated ease for your work-at-home wardrobe:
Inspired by uniforms, this new womenswear label offers a modern take on feminine silhouettes, made with quality fabrics from Japan and Italy. Keeping in theme, with every dress sold, the New York-based designer pays for the local production of school uniforms for girls in areas of the world marked by gender inequality, including Kenya. ($195- $495, rallier.com)
Kit and Ace
Men and women have quickly taken to this label that takes a technical approach to seamless, all-day wear. The rapidly growing company's secret is its ability to mix materials into flexible, durable, and comfortable custom fabrics. For example, pleated shorts made with wool, silk, and Spandex, or a long-sleeve T-shirt made from modal, elastane, and cashmere. They're like fabric mad scientists, but the good kind of mad. ($48-$248, kitandace.com)
7115 by Szeki
This effortlessly cool New York City brand is a well-known secret among women who prefer fuss-free, high-quality separates. Focused on a "pragmatic approach to designs," Szeki 7115's roomy and billowy minimalist designs—in top-notch silk, linen, and cotton blends—are just the type of items you can easily mix and match in your wardrobe. ($64-$300, 7115newyork.com)
If dealing with separates is too much work (we hear ya), this direct-to-consumer label has you covered with its dresses and jumpsuits in such sustainable, ultra-soft materials as modal knit jersey (which feels like a comfy T-shirt drenched in butter). These stylish and versatile garments are easily spruced up with a blazer or statement jewelry. ($150-$220, heucy.com)
Ace & Jig
Beloved by many a fashion editor and comfort seekers worldwide, Ace & Jig is known for its bright and chic woven fabrics. Lightweight single-cloth materials and yarn-dyed textured cottons that hail from textile specialists in India are revered by customers for their long-lasting coziness. Everything is soft, chic, and one-of-a-kind. ($99-$368, aceandJig.com; barneys.com)
This Canadian import has a dozen stores (and counting) statewide, and their e-tailer carries all the collections, including the company's acclaimed in-house brand, Wilfred. Aritzia is heavy on luxe fabrics like textural linens and silk prints, but its real talent is creating tailored, simple looks. Think draped blazers, roomy silk trousers, and minimalist dresses. ($30-$225, aritzia.com)
Described as "low-fi Southern-bred luxury," this menswear label combines American classics (plaid shirts, crewneck shirts) with fresh details like buttons with leather loop closures or antique brass snaps. It's quality clothing for the urban male—something you'd expect to see on fashionable celebrities like Matthew McConaughey or Justin Timberlake. ($135-$595, billyreid.com)
This line of "elevated classics" focuses on clean lines and standout prints. It's intended to streamline your wardrobe with simple but eye-catching separates that can be thrown together, dressed up or down. The striped shirts and dresses are the sort of low-key items that look just fancy enough for a midday meeting. ($100-$345, apieceapart.com)
Do you resort to bad behavior when no one's around? If you need a little kick in the pants to start standing up straight, AlignMed's Original Posture Shirt is constructed with nifty tension panels to keep your body upright. Hey, we all need a help sometime. ($95, alignmed.com)