I’m starting a new chapter in my life. I’ve got a closet full of beautiful blazers, denim shirts, crewnecks and scarves that were shaped by my last professional dress code and reflect a very specific American aesthetic, but I’m back on the job market and struggling to find a style that reflects my independence. After years championing a very specific look, how do I reboot and find me in my closet again? — Christine, New York
I think this is an issue faced not just by someone starting — or looking for — a new job, but by all of us after two years of working mostly from home. Most workplaces have an unspoken and very unspecific dress code (officially, the line is usually “appropriate” attire), and for most of us that code is derived from a quasi-osmotic processing of being around colleagues and those in positions of power and absorbing the ethos of the institution. We generally end up dressing for the office to be part of the group.
When that group is taken away (or is seen only from the chest up), or changes entirely, those signals disappear, leaving us playing a guessing game.
In many way, we’re all in the same boat now, trying to figure out how to represent ourselves as we edge back into the world. I often catch myself staring into my closet as if it’s a foreign country, wondering who I was when I lived there.
Simply picking up where we left off seems weird. So much has changed: bodies, context, social rules. Not to reflect that shift with at least some change of clothes seems wrong. But how much to change and how?
Baby steps, baby steps.
As you feel your way into new spaces and new expressions of identity, it may take a while to decide how you want to look. That’s fine. You don’t want to make a giant investment in a new wardrobe only to discover it’s not actually right for you. That’s not good for the environment or your budget.
Instead, said Alice Moore, a digital style adviser for Neiman Marcus in Dallas, try recasting your basics by adding “a pop of color” — maybe via a shell top or T-shirt — under classic jackets. Swap your scarves (which may act like a wormhole to the past) for a chunky costume jewelry necklace from Ben-Amun or Nest.
For a bigger statement of intent, Cameron Silver, the founder of the vintage resale shop Decades, advised picking up “a great motorcycle jacket, since Yves Saint Laurent recognized it as a sign of independence (and rebellion) when he presented one in his 1960 Christian Dior show. It still does the trick.”
Taking a cue from Mr. Silver’s specialty, and because leather plays a complex role in the climate crisis, this is a great item to shop resale.
Then, he went on, add a few crisp white shirts like this one from Everlane, which are themselves a symbol of a new start, and a cool pair of sneakers, like these from Missoni x Adidas or Comme des Garçons Play x Converse. They are chic, practical — and have a sense of humor. Who can’t work with that?