Ethical & Sustainable Office Workwear
I don’t know about you...but I happen to spend the vast majority of my week in an office. I tackle office politics, office fridge space, office aircon and even, you guessed it, office outfits.
When I lived in London and had my first office job, I struggled to find suitable clothing on a budget. Then, when I decided to throw ethical clothing into the mix, shopping was put on hard mode. But after a few years of trial and error, I am finally happy with the contents of my wardrobe and decided it’s time to roll up my sustainable sleeves and share some tips. And as a little bonus, I have asked some of my stylish friends to help too.
Start With A Simple Sustainable Work Wardrobe
As with any wardrobe, it is best to start with the basics. You want your work wardrobe to be as versatile as possible and if you are still figuring out your style then basics will definitely get the most wear. Seaside Tones is a perfect brand to help you build a capsule collection as it features plenty of monochrome and block colour pieces that are comfortable and easy to mix and match. Seaside Tones focuses on minimalist styles with versatility rather than the trends you might be used to seeing in fast fashion each season. This guarantees each item remains wearable for years to come and may even find their way into your weekend wear too. I don't think you can go wrong if you start your office collection, or casual collection for that matter, with a while linen shirt, which makes this piece top of my list!
When in doubt, dress it up
I never used to be big on dresses, but I don’t have the foresight to outfit plan, nor the commitment to wake up on time in the morning. Dresses solve a lot of my problems in the morning rush, mostly because I don’t have to worry about matching tops and bottoms. I throw on a dress and a trusty black blazer or cardigan and rush out the door moments before the bus rolls down my street. This ease led me to find a true appreciation for dresses; especially wrap dresses which seem to be flattering on everyone!
Pro tip from stylist Jenna Flood, a.k.a the Ironic Minimalist
“Embrace a capsule-style work wardrobe. Have a set number of each garment style (pants, skirts, dresses, tops) in a complementary colour palette that all mix and match. This helps create easy outfits to pull out in the morning rush. Bonus points if you can wear these pieces on the weekends!”
You can find the best things in op shops
If you have a tight budget, I promise you can find at least half of your wardrobe from charity shops. It may take a few trips and it’s a bit of lucky dip with what you’ll find, but not only are you saving money, you are saving clothing from going to landfill. Unfortunately, Australian charities spend millions each year on sending clothes to landfill because they receive more donations than they can store, let alone sell. And because sometimes people donate clothing that is damaged instead of throwing it away themselves or finding another use for it, charities are left to foot the bill. One way you can help, even when buying new items, is remembering to be selective. Know your style and only buy clothing you absolutely love. I often find things I love in a shop or online but will wait a few weeks or even months to buy it. If that special item is still going round my mind I know it will be a good addition to my wardrobe. Added money-saving bonus: if you want to be the first to find out when Velvety is running a sale to save on your special something, sign up to the newsletter.
Use patterns wisely
Patterns are not as scary as they seem and if you are selective then they won’t become outdated. I recommend one patterned item per outfit while keeping the rest fairly simple. Stripes are always a go-to for me, both in my work and weekend wardrobes, so I know I am getting as many wears out of it as possible. If you are drawn to a particular pattern, (be it spots, flowers or anything in-between) pair it with neutral colours or a block colour if you are feeling daring.
Colour can be scary…
But it can also really brighten up your day. Unless you really love a simple wardrobe, monotone can start to get draining. I know when I choose a jazzy kinda top I want to have a jazzy kinda day; and that feeling can rub off on your peers too.
Take full advantage of casual Fridays
If your office has casual Fridays then you better be taking full advantage! This means you only need to figure out four office outfits per week and you start getting into weekend mode. I usually wear something casual and bright like this wrap linen dress while still being modest and work appropriate.
Invest in ethically made accessories
You can make older outfits look completely new with some ethical accessories. While most people would focus on shoes, I would argue your colleagues spend longer staring at your face than at your feet. It is amazing what a statement necklace or a pair of earrings can do to refresh your look; and no-one but you will notice that you’ve recycled an old outfit!
The Sustainable Bag
A work bag is a pretty big deal. It needs to be big enough to hold whatever is thrown your way (plus a keep cup of course), strong enough to deal with the daily grind and stylish enough to match any accompanying outfit. One decision you will have to make is between handbag and backpack; if you ride a work or get achy shoulders then I recommend a backpack and there are a few rather beautiful, sustainably made backpacks available. Numon creates backpacks from upcycled, vegan materials which means each design is limited to the materials available. I love this idea as it decreases fabric waste by using up material that was already discarded, and means customers receive a truly unique and limited item.
If you don’t require a backpack; then there are infinite amounts to choose from. Some of the most beautiful in my opinion happen to be made from leaves. Thamon was the first London-based ethical fashion design company using real tree leaves in fashion accessories. The leaves are a beautiful organic material, light weight and durable. Thamon uses sustainably sourced birch, lotus and sal leaves. The leaves and the wood fibre are responsibly sourced for the production. No toxic treatments or dyes are applied. While I already own a bag, I have been drooling over these plant based bags. So elegant and well made; while imitating leather this bag is completely cruelty free and a great deal cheaper than any high-quality leather bag you will find in the shops… But I also love these cactus leather bags!
In this digital age, it is likely that a laptop bag will come in handy and Clive Street have just the thing for it! Their laptop bags are handmade in Brisbane from up-cycled materials including seat belts, and are made to be waterproof and super durable, keeping your valuables safe.
Make sure it still feels like you
This may sound simple but when I started working in an office, I was the least office person I knew. So I thought I had to completely change my style to fit in. I was so wrong and so wasteful for thinking this way because all those office clothes I bought that didn’t feel-quite-right-but-would-do-the-job ended up at the back of my wardrobe as I found the items that were right for me.
So, a few tips later, I hope you are ready to take your work wardrobe to the next level. Remember to work with what you already have and make sure you have a strong capsule to make outfit choices in the morning as easy as possible so you can start the day strong!
About the author: Chloe is an ethical lifestyle writer and video maker known online as Be Kind Coco. She loves cats and a good cuppa and is on a mission to make ethical living easy.