Can playsuits and jumpsuits have a formal role? Would you be happy arranging your mortgage with someone wearing a playsuit, even if it was a woman? It’s a tricky one to answer, because as the names suggest, the playsuit was not necessarily designed with work in mind, and the jumpsuit was seen as the perfect garment for the fashion-conscious freefall parachutist. (Which means the answer to the question is yes if you’re a freefall parachutist.)
The modern everyday interpretations of the two garments are cousins of dresses and suits, both of which are perfectly viable office wear. But would you take your cousin to work with you? And let’s not forget that the definition of what is “formal” is as much of a moving target as you’re ever likely to encounter in style terms. As business in general is toning back its need to appear formal, the meaning of formal wear is itself becoming more open to interpretation. Somewhere in the middle the two will meet with an enormous explosion of laid-back businesswear, and anyone who hasn’t got their finger on the pulse of style is going to be a casualty.
But that’s for the near future. What about now? Can you really turn up at the office in a playsuit? It’s tempting to say that depending on the context, the answer is probably yes. After all, the world of playsuits and jumpsuits is itself pretty diverse, with some very straight lines and fitted silhouettes on one side and loose, flowing, floral fabrics on the other. A neat and tidy playsuit could definitely be a replacement for a skirt suit, and likewise a jumpsuit would pass unnoticed in an environment where trouser suits were expected. You can always wear a jacket or cardigan if the look works, and this will make the illusion complete. There are a number of styles in the shops at the moment, but as with any timeless look, a good place to find a great garment is in a vintage clothing store.
Office work does not necessarily automatically mean traditional formal any more, either. Even in working environments where men have been expected to wear a suit, the leeway offered to women has usually been pretty generous, with trouser or skirt options, and a blouse, knitwear or jacket on the torso. So it’s not such a huge leap for women to wear a jumpsuit or playsuit that’s at the more tailored end of the spectrum. Try it out in front of the mirror, have a good look at what your colleagues are wearing (as if you don’t already), check out the looks on the city streets at 8:30 a.m. and see how you could pull off the look.
Best of all, if someone suggests a drink or a meal after work, the subtleties of the style mean it can, perhaps with a little accessorising and a tease of the hair, become a rather smart looking piece of casual wear. While your colleagues are shedding their uncomfortable jackets and loosening their collars and cuffs, you’ll already be choosing your starter. And as the evening ends, it’ll be good to know that your clobber is designed for jumping – but hopefully into a taxi.