After several months of WFH (work-from-home) life, many of us have gotten attached to the “sweatpants, yoga pants, and baggy t-shirt” life. Now that we’re finally easing our way back into the office, our work dress codes may be shifting as well. Going back to a strict, uncomfortable, and formal dress code is a daunting idea for those who have been seeking comfort in a time of uncertainty. Let’s look into the possible new and changing landscape of the work dress code.
Work Dress Codes
The history of dress codes
It’s no secret that the way we dress for work (and even in general) continues to evolve throughout history. In fact, many of the changes have taken place after major world events, such as World Wars. COVID-19 is no exception here. A perfect example would be Australia after WWII. Dr. Lorinda Cramer, a researcher at the Australian Catholic University’s National School of the Arts explains, “one of the reasons we saw major changes in dress code following World War II was because the clothing industry was in very short supply. Australia had been subject to austerity measures since 1942 that included the rationing of food and fuel, but also clothing.”
When soldiers came back from war, they were supposed to be given a civvy suit (a not-so-comfortable three-piece suit). However, Australians could not keep up with the demands of these suits. Due to the shortages, many were speculating if more comfortable clothing should be adopted. With London being their main style inspiration, it was time to think outside the box. This led them to turn to California and American leisurewear, which looked like sportswear, jackets, trousers, woolen cardigans, and jumpers. Ultimately, history shows us that our fashion and dress codes often change and evolve through major upheavals.
Dress codes today
Fast forward to 2021 (still in the lingering effects of a global pandemic), we’re needing to open up the dress code conversation. While slippers and robes will most likely never be appropriate for the workplace, the least employers can do during this time is create more flexible and diverse rules around what we wear. Even if it’s just for the sake of productivity. Employees are more likely to churn out quality work and remain productive when they’re comfortable. Fortunately, the pandemic has paved the way for this topic.
One important step in discovering what will work best for your company will be solidifying your values. The way that your team dresses should reflect your brand. Are you a company dedicated to reliability and conservatism? Keeping clothes neutral and more traditional will showcase that. Are you a more innovative, artistic, and diverse brand? Allow your employees to explore weird patterns and flamboyant colors. Balancing the embodiment of the culture of the organization with the comfortability of its employees should be of utmost importance. It’s doesn’t need to be one or the other.
Even the finance sector is changing (a sector with some of the most strict and conservative standards in all of history). For example, Morgan Stanley is now allowing sneakers instead of loafers. Personal shopper Jessica Cadmus and Stanford professor Richard Ford believe there’s a thin line to walk here, however. “There’s been this message that things are headed in a more casual direction, but you have to read between the lines,” Cadmus said.
The call for comfort
COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed the world in a myriad of ways. The way that we show up at our place of work is among one of them. It is now necessary for many companies to re-evaluate their work dress codes in order to keep up with the new needs of the working world. Creating more flexibility and freedom should now be balanced with how a brand or business chooses to portray itself to clients and customers. Many are choosing to give out custom T-shirts featuring the company logo to workers. Gone are the days where employees feel uncomfortable in their tight suits or heels while tackling a difficult problem in the boardroom. Before the pandemic, the rebels were the ones wearing the elastic waistbands. Now the rebels will most likely be wearing a full face of makeup and designer brands. What a time to be alive.
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