How to build a sustainable work wear wardrobe

Girl wearing a black suit with a black handbag hung over one arm.
Close up outfit detail of a girl wearing a professional corporate wear black suit.
A photo of a girl standing on some steps to a building. She is wearing a black suit and has her hand in one pocket.
Girl wearing a black suit with a black handbag hung over one arm.
Outfit detail photograph of a girl wearing a black suit
Girl wearing a black suit with a black handbag hung over one arm.
Outfit detail photograph of a girl wearing a black suit
Outfit details photograph of a black work bag, black work pants and neutral heels.
Girl wearing a black suit

“Dress for success” the saying goes, and cliche though it might be, there’s a lot of truth to it. We spend a large portion of our lives at work so, naturally, this is reflected in the proportion of our wardrobes which comprise work wear. It also gives us the opportunity to take a slower approach to our office wear attire. In all honesty, my approach to building a sustainable work wear wardrobe is pretty much the same way I approach the rest of my wardrobe; guided by intentionality and some core slow fashion principles (think buying less but better, caring for clothes, shopping preloved). However, I think it can be useful to outline how I apply these guiding principles to work wear specifically. So below are a few suggestions to help you on your sustainable work wear journey now that the corporate world is getting back on its feet post pandemic.

What are your work wear requirements?

While it’s great to support sustainable brands, I’m a big believer that building a sustainable wardrobe, work wear or no, is about a mindset shift. It really all boils down to making more intentional purchases – one of which is making sure that the garments you buy won’t just gather dust in your closet. One of the ways you can reduce this from happening is to assess your work wear requirements by tailoring (pun intended) your wardrobes to the needs of your work place. Do you have a uniform? Do you work from home but sometimes have to attend the odd meeting? Have you returned to the corporate 9-5 post pandemic life? Or a bit of both? This will help guide your purchases to ensure they are appropriate for your work place and how many pieces you need. 

As an example, when I first began this blog, at the beginning of the pandemic, I worked in an office environment which required traditional corporate dress code. I don’t think I (or the rest of the world) quite comprehended quite how much the landscape of work would transform over the next two years. Fast forward two years and a couple of lock downs later and I’m working in a different role completely from home. I’ve still kept a lot of my corporate pieces as I wear them for Zoom meetings and I think it’s useful to have pieces like this on hand for more formal unexpected events. But I’m not likely to go out and buy a new corporate dress anytime soon as my daily “uniform” is much more casual

Create a Capsule Work Wear Wardrobe

You’ll know by now, that I’m a fan of capsule wardrobes. They help you create a more sustainable wardrobe by helping you invest in long lasting timeless wardrobe staples which stop the “I have nothing to wear” angst or buying into trends which you may feel out of date a season later. I’ve personally found that stripping back my wardrobe has refined my personal style, helped me buy less and made me invest in higher quality but long lasting pieces that I enjoy re-wearing and re-styling. I love capsule wardrobes in general, but building a capsule wardrobe that’s specifically tailored to your job can be particularly helpful for building a more sustainable work wardrobe as they not only reduce the number of work pieces I have to have (a pair of black work pants, a few blazers, a couple of dresses and blouses can go a long way when mixed and matched with different pieces and accessories) but they have also reduced the amount of decision making I have to do of a Monday morning. And that can only be a good thing, right?

Invest in versatile pieces

That said, sometimes it’s not just about building a distinct “work wear wardrobe” as much as about how you style clothes you have in your wardrobe in a work wear appropriate manner. Over the years I would say my wardrobe has evolved from having a “dedicated work wardrobe” to a place where many of my core wardrobe staples (though certainly not all) can be styled both professionally of a weekday and more casually for dinner out on a weekend. For example, in winter my work uniform was very much a woollen knit with black tailored pants and heels (for example, this outfit) but on weekends I’d style the same knit with jeans and flats to create a more casual look and feel. This versatility meant that I was able to get a lot more outfits out of fewer pieces which made my wardrobe more versatile. 

While it will ultimately depend on your work place and its dress code I like to consider the following when styling outfits for the office (though they are certainly not hard and fast rules – you know best what is appropriate for your work environment): 

    • Garment style and design: in a more professional setting I tend to opt for higher necklines, sleeves and skirts and trousers which fall below the knee line.
    • Colours and prints: for a more formal corporate style environment I personally tend towards more muted tones, neutral colour palettes, and smaller more detailed prints.
    • Fabric: I think some fabrics tend to lend themselves to an office style environment over others – think heavier fabrics often used in tailored structured garments, some lightweight fabrics like silks, satins and georgettes, cotton shirts and blouses, knits and woollens.
Look for pre-loved pieces

Sustainability issues faced by the fashion industry is not limited to quality (how our clothes are made and whether the people making them are treated fairly) but also quantity. With 70 per cent of the 53 million tonnes of fibre that the fashion industry produces going into landfill* the fashion industry’s environmental and social issues cannot be solved by simply replacing regular brands with sustainable brands (although supporting sustainable brands is always a great start!) if we do not also address at the lifecycle of our clothes and how many clothes we are buying. This astounding figure highlights issues of overconsumption a problem which goes to the heart of the fashion industry’s current model. In the past there were four fashion seasons, now it is estimated that there are “52 micro seasons”. While no one consumer can change an industry, you can however, reduce your fashion footprint. One of the easiest ways we consumers can help reduce overconsumption is by prolonging the life of existing items in our wardrobe and buying pre-loved. You can find some amazing sustainable work wear pieces both in physical op shops – oversized blazers are particularly great pieces to thrift and the blazer pictured above is thrifted – and online preloved stores such as Vinted, The Real Real or The Vestiaire collective.

Consider Rental Services

I haven’t tried clothing rental services yet. I’d be interested in them, but currently the membership cost is more than what I usually spend on clothes in any given month so I can’t justify it just yet. That said, I think it would be a great option if you buy a lot of clothes, need to update your wardrobe regularly or need to wear designer brands for work. It’s a membership where, for a monthly fee, you can choose to rent a set number of designer items per month. Often rental services like this also allow you to rent a piece for a set fee on a one off basis which would be useful if you had a one off special work event or function to attend. 

Investing in sustainable brands

If you need to update your wardrobe for work it’s great to be able to invest in sustainably made pieces. By purchasing your work wear from sustainable brands you help support brands who are reducing the harmful impacts that the fashion industry can have on our precious earth and resources. Often shopping from sustainable work wear brands has the added benefit of supporting smaller and emerging designers. Sustainable work wear brands also put an emphasis on timeless designs and quality fabrics which will also hopefully mean that you need to update your work wear wardrobe less. Below are a few suggestions for sustainable brands who offer work wear appropriate attire. Please note, I haven’t personally tried all of the brands below – only some of them. However, I thought quite a few of them were worth mentioning as they’re well respected brands in the sustainable fashion landscape and have a good work wear options.

    • ASKET pride themselves on transparency & traceability. They have a small collection based around beautifully made timeless wardrobe staples.  They also provide care guides so that you can ensure your garments last as long as possible and have a repair and revival program. I recently had the opportunity of trying ASKET’s Mock Neck Sweater (made from 100% pre-consumer recycled wool) on a non-obligatory gifted basis. It’s a beautiful piece I’ve already worn a lot this autumn.
    • Vetta Capsule: As the name suggests Vetta creates collections around different capsule wardrobes. I’ve been keen to try this brand for a while because they have a lot of innovative designs (such as reversible garments and creative designs to help you wear a garment more than one way).
    • Eileen Fisher: Beautiful, timeless consciously made garments.
    • Sezane: I love Sezane’s Parisian chic designs and they’re great on the sustainability front too. You can read my review of this brand here.
    • Neu Nomads: Classic, work wear (and beyond) designs. This New York brand sources fabrics from sustainable and natural resources 
    • Cuyana: beautiful thoughtfully made clothes and work accessories (bags, phone cases etc.)
    • Jillian Boustred: I bought this beautiful dress from Jillian Boustred last year and it’s fast become a favourite of mine. Although this design wasn’t necessarily work wear appropriate a lot of their other designs are. Jillian Boustred produces clothing according to 7 responsibility pillars (transparency, material selection, ethical manufacturing, “Made in Australia” garments and an emphasis on circularity, waste management and plastic free practices).
    • Caves Collect: I’ve been eyeing off Caves Collect beautiful, effortless tailoring for a few years now. Made in Melbourne, Australia their brand “advocates for sustainable and local manufacturing”. 
    • St Agni Studio: Minimalist luxury with an emphasis on sustainability.
Investing in timeless, long lasting pieces

While I love to prioritise and support sustainable brands I do also purchase clothes from non-sustainable brands. Over the past few years I’ve worked hard to increase the amount I buy preloved or support small and sustainable brands, but I’m not perfect which is why I tend to refer to my approach to style as “slow fashion” rather than “sustainable fashion”. Clothing produced fairly and sustainably often costs more and while we’re lucky to have more choice of sustainable brands than ever before, sometimes you just can’t find the right piece, or your location limits your choice, your budget constrains you…whatever the reason that’s ok. That said, there is a lot you can still do to ensure your wardrobe isn’t harming the earth. I like to focus on the change I am able to make and genuinely try my best – it’s all anyone can ask. However, when I do purchase clothes from regular commercial brands I try to do so intentionally and try to buy styles and designs which I know will already match with things I already own, suit my lifestyle, that won’t go out of style in a season or two and which seem well made (fabric not flimsy, well stitched, good cut and shape) so that I make make them last as long as possible. While I wish every brand was made sustainably, I like to think it’s possible to make a non-sustainable piece more sustainable by ensuring it get a lot of wear and love.

A few sustainable work wear suggestions

I’m curious, have you tried any of the sustainable tips and tricks listed above in your work wear wardrobe? 

Outfit details: 

    • Blazer (thrifted) similar here.
    • Bodysuit (old) Kookai, similar here
    • Black pants, shoes, and bag – Country Road (old), similar here, here and here.

Photos: Sara Eshu

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