SINGAPORE - After a year of working from home, more Singaporeans are returning to the office.
That means it is time to shrug off your loungewear and change back into office wear, but that does not necessarily mean the stiff, starched suits and sharp dresses of pre-Covid-19 days.
As dressing patterns shift in a pandemic age, stylists say they are seeing unique concerns from customers.
Ms Joy Tan, 39, founder of style consultancy The Style Atelier, has noticed many companies becoming more open to casual attire in their dress codes. But it has led to a new problem for her clients - how to look stylishly casual.
"People welcome dressing casually, but don't want to look and feel frumpy," says Ms Tan, who runs the business with Ms Violet Chan, 44.
"Textbook references on smart-casual dressing can seem quite uncomfortable or suited to the West. Singaporeans want (something) suited for the climate here."
Even in the pandemic era, dressing should still bring you "social rewards", such as exuding authority or friendliness at work, adds Ms Tan, whose company offers a range of coaching programmes in skills such as grooming, styling and language.
While stylists agree there is no one-size-fits-all solution - given an individual's unique body shape, features and lifestyle - here are some tricks you can try to gear up for the office.
1. Try a capsule wardrobe
Editing an overflowing closet down to a collection of essential pieces can do wonders for sorting out your personal style. It is less wasteful for the environment too.
Enter the capsule wardrobe - a favourite of Ms Debby Kwong, 33, founder of home organisation and personal shopping company Sortorial, which started virtual shopping sessions during the circuit breaker.
The company, founded in 2018, offers decluttering and styling services and has a clientele of male and female working professionals in their late 20s to late 40s.
A capsule wardrobe "saves you time and money".
"You spend less time thinking about what to wear, and spend less money when you have versatile pieces of clothing", says Ms Kwong, who started Sortorial to help individuals "buy better, buy less and practise conscious consumption without compromising on the fun they have with fashion".
Start with a balanced number of tops, bottoms, outerwear, one-piece outfits and accessories. A capsule wardrobe should have 25 to 50 pieces that include clothing, shoes and accessories, Ms Kwong says.
Complementary colours that pair well are also key. Next, include a few prints or statement pieces. Finish with a range of footwear from casual to smart casual to formal.
2. Have a consistent palette
Those going to the office just a few times a week may be tempted to re-wear certain items before throwing them in the wash.
To mix and match while looking fresh, Ms Kwong suggests streamlining pieces to a consistent palette, especially if one is considering a wardrobe revamp.
"Do you prefer nudes or jewel tones? If they are complementary, it will be easy to mix and match.
"At the point of purchase, you should be able to say how you would style a particular item at least three ways."
3. Layer smart with comfort
There is a reason fashionistas often recommend layering pieces. It adds dimension to an outfit and looks like you put in more effort.
If you are finding it hard leaving your comfy T-shirts at home, balance them with a smart piece of outerwear.
Ms Tan of The Style Atelier says: "The oversized blazer or suit jacket look is trendy for women now - you can still wear a T-shirt or camisole inside. It doesn't impede you when you work and gives you flexibility."
Athleisure brands and Uniqlo's Airism line offer sweat-resistant, breathable options for those who fear layering in a humid climate, she adds.
Tailored items would be best, but layering smartly can elevate looser-fitting pieces you already own, says Ms Kwong.
"For an off-the-rack option, just adding a layer in the form of a blazer or cardigan can instantly make an outfit look more polished."
4. Spring for a pop of colour
Colour therapy, an alternative remedy that uses colour and light to treat physical or mental health, is one way to lift spirits when dressing, says Ms Kwong.
"To make you feel better about heading back to the office, pick colours that brighten or complement your skin tone."
5. Accessorise - from your bling to your lips
A simple accessory can jazz up a casual outfit - a nice necklace for her or a vest for him, says Ms Kwong.
Statement earrings and rings make a plain outfit more interesting, adds Ms Tan, adding that style is not limited to the wardrobe.
"Your hair and accessories work in tandem and a bit of make-up definitely helps. If you're wearing a subdued outfit, even red lips or some colour will jazz up the look.
"If you wear a really nice dress, but don't do your hair and make-up, it's still a fail."
6. Don't forget the shoes
Shoes maketh the outfit. Investing in heels is a quick way to elevate a look - literally, says Ms Tan.
"Heels may not be the most comfortable, but you can trade stilettos for kitten heels. Just a few centimetres of height improve your posture and the way you walk, and give you a bit more elegance."
Prefer to stay closer to the ground? Brogues are great for both men and women, adds Ms Kwong. "For casual Fridays, white leather sneakers are versatile with a dress or jeans."
7. Find your fit
If all else fails, it may be time for a wardrobe overhaul - with pieces that fit you to a T.
Ms Kwong and Ms Tan agree that fit is the most important style trick.
"Having well-tailored outfits will make you look smart without restricting movement. So if you want to invest in office wear, it's best to get good-quality, custom options that will last a long time," says Ms Kwong.
Poor fit can be compounded by lingerie, adds Ms Tan. For instance, an ill-fitting top looks worse when worn with a bra of the wrong size, and even well-fitted pants look sloppy with VPLs (visible panty lines).
At the most basic level, everyone should know his or her body's measurements.
The key is not about spending a lot of money, but practising discernment, says Ms Tan.
"Good style is not about consuming - a lot of it stems from living mindfully and knowing what works for you. You end up having a smaller wardrobe, but one that is more enduring."
While you are sprucing up your wardrobe, do not neglect your crowning glory, which style experts say plays a big part in overall presentation.
Colour creators at Shiseido Professional observe that consumers these days are more concerned about their hair condition, prefer less damaging services and want low-maintenance colours that are easy to manage, but still trendy.
That does not mean colour is out.
Hair trends now emphasise lighter, more expressive colours, with neutral, grounded tones in the spotlight, says Mr Kuah Beng-Lee, education manager at the company Kao Salon Singapore, which owns hair colour brand Goldwell.
Kao Salon predicts that in place of the bold, pop colours of the past, such as fuchsia and red, "nostalgic brights" like orange, green and lilac will trend.
Consumers still want colour as a form of escapism, Mr Kuah says. "More people are going back to the office and we see consumers heading to salons for a fresh hair colour and style."
Here is how you can stand out with your locks - comfortably.
1. Choose a darker crown with lighter ends
Go dark on top and light at the bottom.
Ms Tien Goh, education manager at Shiseido Professional Singapore, says: "This allows new hair growth to blend more seamlessly with the coloured hair. There is less demand for whole-head bleaching, although more consumers are asking for highlights to add dimension and style."
Shiseido Professional has dubbed the upcoming trend "duo colour melt", where two colours are applied for the base and highlights, with the highlights placed as thin streaks near the crown before transitioning or "melting" into wider portions at the ends.
2. Weave in the colour
Natural, neutral colours are the easiest to maintain, says Mr Kuah. "But if one prefers bolder hair colours, he or she can ask for the colours to be added through creative techniques like ombre or balayage."
3. Try "soft" services
The age of heavy hair texture correction has passed. Instead, try a soft perm or soft rebond.
Such services make your hair easy to manage and style, so you are ready to go in the morning, says Ms Goh.
"Less layering at the ends also helps maintain a neater presentation, while surface layering at the crown can produce a more voluminous hairstyle."
Mr John Wong, a colourist at Mimosa Salon, says: "We are seeing more customers request for soft straightening as they would like a style that is neat and fresh before going back to the office regularly."
4. Maintain it at home
"Don't skimp on your post-colouring haircare, especially after a shower," says Ms Goh.
She recommends a good hair oil, like the Sublimic Luminoforce Brilliance Oil, to lock in moisture, which is key for healthy hair, shine and smoothness.
A leave-in treatment like the Sublimic Wonder Shield will also maintain the hairstyle and colour for longer, while protecting against pollutants and ultraviolet radiation, she adds.
Mr Kuah says: "Maintenance is easy with the right home care products with adequate colour protection."
He recommends Goldwell's Kerasilk Color range and Dualsenses Color Extra Rich range, which can be purchased at partnering Goldwell salons.