Of course, “dress codes” have always been evolving. And here, I am not referring to the many changes in fashion that I have seen over my lifetime. Recall the rapid decline in popularity of flared trousers in the late 70s or the David Bowie-inspired over-sized blazers of the mid-80s.
Instead, I am interested in workplace dress codes that both formally and informally define what can and can’t be worn “at work.”
More specifically, I am thinking about the shift from standardized and uniform dress codes to the more flexible approach that one finds in more and more companies today.
I have clearly experienced this change in my own working life.
When first I entered the corporate world more than twenty years ago, there was no question or discussion. Everybody had to wear formal clothing in the office. And, by formal attire, I mean a dark suit, dress shirt, and necktie for men. Women were similarly expected to wear a conservative formal suit and plain blouse.
This changed in the late nineties with the introduction of “Casual Friday.” The idea behind relaxing the dress code on Fridays was to stimulate interaction and engagement for at least one day a week in a more informal setting.
I still remember the first year it was introduced in my company.
Many people weren’t prepared for this new “responsibility.” Their wardrobe wasn’t built for Casual Fridays. The result? Confusion, anxiety and — often — highly inappropriate outfits that combined elements of formal suits and casual weekend clothing.
Over the last couple of decades, “business casual” has become the new normal in many companies. And wearing a suit in the office today merely results in questions or sarcastic comments.
A more traditional style is only necessary for particular places or events. But, recently, I notice that even this is changing.
I spoke at a FinTech event earlier this summer in which both bankers and coders participated, and the distinction was not between those in suits and those dressed casually, but those dressed in suits, those dressed in business casual, and those dressed in T-shirts or hoodies. It was still easy to distinguish the bankers from the coders, but the change in dress codes is real. That much seems obvious.