Dressing for work when returning from maternity leave

Hayley Clarke from One P Design

Returning to work after maternity leave can be an challenging and emotional time for women.

Speaking from experience I remember going through extreme swings. One moment I felt waves of grief around leaving my beautiful little girl, Riley, moments of feeling overwhelmed about how I was going to juggle it all, jealousy towards the people who would be spending time with my daughter when I could not, and excitement at the new possibilities that returning to work could bring. In between the emotional roller coaster, I needed thinking time to work through the practicalities of how I was going to manage a family and work all at the same time.  Time itself was a struggle and sleep deprivation put a fuzzy blur over my best ideas! 

I knew I couldn’t have ‘one of those mornings’ every morning – you know, where bub soils her romper just as you settle her in the car, or you forget the bottle in the fridge and remember ten minutes down the road and have to turn back in traffic, and now you’re late and verging on tears. No, If I was to get us out of the house on time, I knew I needed to get up earlier and give myself a buffer just in case. 

I also knew I couldn’t be the cause of us being late every day, so I set out on a mission. Mum looked after Riley and I took on my wardrobe.  I tried on my work clothes and with shape change around my tummy and boobs, half my clothes didn’t fit right. I repurposed a maternity top and got 5 outfits together.  I created my first week back to work wardrobe, all laid out on the bed, shoes and bras included, had everything cleaned and ready to go. I shoved all my other clothes to the far end of the wardrobe and created hanging space for my ‘uniforms’.  

And this is how my first personal work wardrobe was created. Given women on average spend 16 minutes of their day or 80 minutes a week, deciding what to wear to work, this is 16 mins a day that I needed to spend elsewhere. I set about creating a simple but effective personal work wardrobe that meant I had a clear idea each morning what I was going to wear and the confidence that I looked work appropriate due to my outfits being purposely selected in advance. 

Three things I was very clear on when setting out to create my work wardrobe were; 

1. Ensuring my clothes were functional – my day now with a little one meant that before and after work were a lot more hectic than before with childcare drop off and pick up, swinging by the grocery store because I definitely would need last minute supplies, getting dinner ready as soon as I got home and bath time. The luxury of getting home and putting something on that was comfortable was out of the question now. All this added up to ensuring that my personal work wardrobe was comfortable, functional and easy to care for.

2. My body shape had evolved – some items of clothes that previously fit perfectly didn’t fit anymore. My body shape had evolved, my hips had got wider, my breasts had deflated and a tummy that was previously flat had taken up residence. Research from our Measure for Change study conducted by One P in conjunction with the Whitehouse university shows that a woman’s body goes through three major transition periods in her lifetime, each resulting in a major change to the composition of her body. Childbearing years see women gain in the upper body and waist, whilst menopause is similar, it is to a lesser degree. Twilight years see shrinkage in the lower body, height and frame whilst the upper body sees less of an impact. So whilst we hope our body returns to our pre baby shape, we can expect to see it continue to evolve over time.

3. Investing in confidence building garments – Buying a new outfit goes a long way to making you feel confident, which is what you need when you are heading back to work. After being in what feels a parallel universe after having a child, the feeling of going back to work can be daunting. So, putting on a new outfit and feeling good makes that entry back into work a little bit smoother.

My recommended steps to creating a personal work wardrobe when returning to work include:

Step 1 – Start with your own wardrobe
Take stock of what you currently have in your wardrobe and note your go to pieces. These pieces will give you a sense of what you like and feel comfortable in. Consider where they sit on your hips, do you like a high or low waist? Do you prefer loose fitting garments or more fitted, round neck or v neck tops? 

Step 2 – Assess the gaps
Hopefully you may already have some trusted basics that can form part of your personal wardrobe, from there identify your gaps.

Step 3 – 10-day work wardrobe
When creating your personal work wardrobe, you should base it on having enough items to get you through two full working weeks. This alleviates the pressure on washing and ironing too regularly, it also helps protect the longevity of the garment. This does not mean that you can’t wear an item twice in that period, but it gives you a plan without too much pressure on upkeep as well as options depending on the type of day ahead and the weather.

Here is the 10-day work wardrobe plan that worked for me

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