Closet Constructor: The Office Is Your Playground

Unsure of how to dress for work? One word: dachshunds.

April 26, 2024 11:04 am
a collage of items on a photo collage background
How do you dress for teh office in 2024?

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Welcome to Closet Constructor, a weekly series where I (a style editor) help you (a well-meaning person who likes clothes) discover new, interesting, and affordable ways to really start dressin’.

It’s not particularly bold to suggest that we are obsessed with work. Data indicates that Americans work the longest hours of all the industrialized nations, and even beyond the cubicle (or home office) walls, the topic of work is a common one. Anecdotally, you’re currently reading a ponderance on what to wear to work, just one of the many office-centric thought pieces to have touched feeds this week.

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It’s similarly clear, however, that the absolutes surrounding said workplace have recently been amended. For many, an in-office presence is now a compromise, and an occasion, not a daily slog. Recent Pew Research surveys suggests that some 41% of applicable jobs operate on at least a hybrid schedule. No work Fridays, once a surefire way to get PIPed, now function on a one-for-you, one-for-me basis. Tempered by years of at-home athleisure, unspoken dress codes have likewise been exorcised for an in-office wardrobe that might include the occasion pair of Levi’s jeans, or, for the most relaxed environments, an odd Hole T-shirt appearance.

Both factors inform this week’s central question — what to wear to work in the year of our lord 2024? — in different ways. In a work-centric culture (particularly the white-collar industries) dumping a modicum of thought into what you put on every morning has implications for your productivity, coworker relations and, quite possibly, your career. But, in the face of an industry-wide revolution, business casual, a dubious and unclear apprehension to begin with, is no longer the north star for office HR to point to that it once was.

If you’ve read any of my past work — my explainer on menswear’s pants problem, perhaps, or why the gardening clog is the shoe of the summer — you might expect a successive “get freaky with it.” And while that’s not entirely misguided, I’ll instead fall back on two seemingly conservative adages: dress for the job that you want, and wear what you would feel comfortable having your parents seeing.

a collage of office style on a white background
Office style has dramatically changed.

(For the adventurous dresser, these might induce some dismay. Think of it this way. If your desired job falls in the realm of creative director, then rocking the Issey Miyake landscape trousers to your current accounting gig is a-okay, also long as mamí is also a-okay with pleated Japanese trousers.)

Allow me to game out the below outfit as a perfect example of what you can and should get away with with it comes for dressing for the office. On their own, none of the referenced apparel — a pair of tan trousers, a striped oxford, a sweater vest — are particularly mutinous to traditional dress codes.

Look closer, however, and you’ll find a manifest opportunity for comfort and personal style. Relaxed, pleated, drawstring trousers — the new batch from J.W. Anderson’s collab with Uniqlo are incredible at just $60 — more flattering than the tech chino and worlds more comfortable, are now a viability, and help add more structure to a partnered high-collared boxy oxford. A new latitude of freedom mean that a new cannon of kooky knitwear and lightweight jackets are now on the table, without offending sensibilities. (Perhaps we save the Y-project for post-office activities, though.) The office is your oyster, should you choose to make it such.

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It’s prudent to acknowledge that the opportunity to impress coworkers with an especially fantastical dachshund knit is both an anomaly and a privilege afforded to a select few, and one that should be used wisely and appropriately. With great power comes great responsibility and all that.

In summary: wear what makes you comfortable, within reason. Experiment if you can. Keep the thighs sheathed, unless your supremely confident in your ability to avoid getting reported to HR. And clock out from obsessing over work, if only for the weekend.

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