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How to dress for the commute

Hybrid working may be the norm but in 2024, a large percentage of the population still commutes to the office. So, this month, menswear writer Josh Sims explores the best wardrobe essentials to navigate your morning travel in style.

In years to come, some people may speak about that small window of time when, it seemed, they would never go to work again. They would still have to work, of course, but thanks to a combination of pandemic, tech and apparent cost-savings, employees like them were encouraged to work from home. The commute was over. Until, of course, it was back again following – surprise! – the slow realisation that people at home, well, might not be working all that much. Back to packing a bag and dressing for the job.

It’s back to the broader 21st-century trend of a more mobile society too: more of us travel more often and further, with the gadgets to allow our connected lives to move with us, with work and leisure – for good or ill – increasingly blurred. You’re as likely to go to work with your gym kit – or even in your gym kit – as your laptop and packed lunch. You may, unfortunately, well be the type of commuter who the American writer E.B. White described as ‘one who spends his life / In riding to and from his wife / A man who shaves and takes a train / And then rides back to shave again’.

This constant to-and-fro is nothing new. In the late 19th century, when industrialisation sparked urbanisation and the huge growth in cities, the well-to-do flocked to the relative space and cleanliness of the suburbs – and the daily commute was born. Remarkably, not much has changed about that arrangement in a century. Even with the recolonisation of city centres, still around 70 per cent of workers commute.

Small wonder then that the functionality of those “tools” we use to make this mobility more efficient has become foregrounded. It’s nice, but not enough, to have a swanky leather holdall from some designer brand. It may be aesthetically pleasing, but it’s also heavy, uncomfortable to carry, and makes a jumble of its contents. More technical products, such as Thomas Pink’s collaborations with Troubadour – particularly the Apex model – offer details like tough, waterproof, lightweight construction, multiple internal sections, water bottle pockets and, of course, a shirt bag.

But for what shirt? The increased casualisation of dress has also opened a space for more hybrid products – semi-formal in style but built with the ease and flexibility of sportswear – the likes of specialist shirting. These shirts – such as those from Thomas Pink’s Traveller and Stretch collections – are made from long-staple cottons to be especially crease- resistant, or long-staple cotton and synthetic blends to be even more so, with some extra give to the cloth that might be welcome when stuck in the cocoon of your car, strap-hanging on the bus or squished into your train seat.

Not that tradition doesn’t sometimes work just as well. A substantial linen shirt is another good option – it may crease easily, but somehow looks better for that, while being breathable. And worst-case scenario, think layering and pack a Merino wool sweater to cover up your crumples. Merino wool wicks moisture and is even antimicrobial so, you know, a touch of “commuter’s clamminess” won’t be a problem – for you or your colleagues.