Here’s an interesting fact you might not know: business casual dress as we know it was largely an invention by Levi’s. A marketing ploy to sell more chinos.
So if we ask the question “why do we dress the way we do at work?” the answer is complicated. Regardless of whether you swing to the casual or the corporate side, it has to do with traditions, class structures, marketing, changing social norms.
Meanwhile, the impact office uniforms have on our working lives is equally complex. Dress codes intertwine with external impressions as well as internal company culture. That’s why it’s worth reevaluating them from time to time.
So how’s yours looking? Is it time to give it an overhaul?
Office dress codes in 2019
When Goldman Sachs relaxed their dress code recently many saw it as a death knell for corporate dress as we know it. Why did they do it? The “changing nature of workplaces generally in favour of a more casual environment”.
A more casual environment. That’s it in a nutshell. With the workforce now dominated by millennials, workers are appreciating a little more freedom and flexibility. When it comes to rethinking office dress codes right now, casual is most definitely the direction of choice.
Here are a few things to think about:
“Athleisure” might just be the biggest fashion revolution of recent years. If you didn’t already grasp the portmanteau, it’s a mix of athletics and leisure. At the office that might translate to a sporty parker instead of a suit jacket, a sweatshirt worn over a shirt, or some of those trouser-trackpant hybrids that are comfy enough to ride a bike in but smart enough to get you through a client lunch with your professionalism unscathed.
Embracing athleisure can have its benefits. There’s plenty of research showing that exercise boosts everything from job performance to memory to thinking skills. Even the simple act of going for a walk while we mull over a problem can lead us to come up with more creative solutions. So making it easier for workers to be active during their work day (without having to bring a whole extra change of clothes) could just be a win-win for all involved.
Loosening the knot on ties
Mandatory neckties are one of the things being ditched by firms like Goldman Sachs. How many people nowadays still believe that a man is only properly dressed if he’s wearing a tie? (Answer: not many.) Aside from being seen as unnecessary, loosening the law on ties is a matter of comfort: research even shows that a tightly done-up tie reduces blood flow to the brain.
A sizeable 30 percent of Britons aged 25 to 39 have at least one tattoo. So what happens when your dress policy requires them to be hidden? For some, it’s enough to discourage applying for the job in the first place, which means your company misses out on potential talent.
Most interestingly, it seems that attitudes to tattoos have changed dramatically. Research suggests that having them no longer makes you less employable or leads to wage discrimination. So by rethinking ink you might simply be getting your company in line with the times.
So is a dress code rethink right for you?
The general direction of workwear in 2019 is towards a more casual, millennial-driven approach. There’s a movement toward greater freedom of self-expression, freedom to reject traditional gender boundaries, freedom to choose flexible work arrangements where skipping between home and the office doesn’t require an outfit change.
But that’s not to say this approach is for everyone.
Your dress code still has to gel with your company culture. If you’re keen to give off a youthful, progressive vibe, then relaxing your dress code might help. Done right, it can signal to clients that your company cares more about what your workers deliver than what they wear.
But if you’re dealing with clients or stakeholders who have a very traditional mindset, it may be that your corporate dress code needs to stay. Perhaps with a few subtle amendments here and there.
A final thing to consider is how prescriptive you get with your policies around clothing and grooming. Whether you leave it up to your employees to simply use their good judgment — like GM’s two-word dress code, which simply states “Dress appropriately” — is up to you. It can be worth being a little more specific — just to make sure everyone is on the same page.