The End of the Work Dress Code?

by Modis on July 17, 2017

casual work attireOn the street, popular fashion has been in constant flux for decades. Trends shift in wild and sometimes crazy directions following the latest fads–even coming around full circle as outdated styles become hip again. In the world of office attire, however, personal style and comfort is most often sacrificed for uniformity and professionalism. This slower pace of progress in the corporate world occasionally spurs some people to push the boundaries in an effort to re-establish new norms for the modern work dress code.

In one recent case that hit TODAY, a disgruntled British employee fed up with the summer heat opted to protest his company’s strict no-shorts policy by wearing a dress to work. Rather than getting fired, his bold move prompted a policy change to allow men to wear dress shorts in the summer. This, along with other high-profile incidents over the years, sporadically raises questions over whether a strict dress code is even relevant in today’s modern workforce, particularly in office environments where employees don’t even interact with the public.

Change is inevitable, but will we be looking at an eventual total upheaval of professional attire in the workplace? To get a sense of where things might be headed in the future, it’s worth taking a look at how the work dress code has evolved over time.

From Stuffy Formal to Chill Casual

Office culture in the Mad Men-esque era of the 50s and 60s was strictly stuffy business suits and formal attire. While many sectors of the corporate world have held fast to the “dress for success” power suit look across the decades, we’ve gradually seen a shift towards a less formal approach to dressing for work in many business sectors.

The concept of “Casual Fridays” catching fire in the early 90s turned out to be a big morale booster for a lot of companies facing waning worker morale amidst a growing recession. Loosening the reigns on what employees could wear to work, both in general and on predetermined days, helped to improve workplace positivity and give productivity a boost. Given the opportunity to dress down a bit, employers discovered that a lot of people don’t want to model restrictive business wear if they don’t have to.

Startup culture in the tech world may also have a hand in driving change over the last few decades. With CEOs at some of the biggest tech giants around donning everything from hoodies and jeans to casual logo-adorned T-shirts, work dress codes are sometimes thrown out completely. This attitude has caused a trickling down deeper into all facets of hip-minded organizations. Companies like Google, Zappos and Facebook pride themselves in a more fun, wholesome and even relaxed office culture. This provides an enticing model for other startups and forward thinking companies to adopt and spread into the future.

Fresh Faces, Fresh Ideas About Work Attire

Beyond the impact of changes made from upper management, others believe a steady influx of Millennials and younger job prospects in the workforce is helping to shape the future of the work dress code. Among younger workers in particular, less formal dress is viewed as a big plus when hunting for jobs in the tech industry. Companies looking to attract top candidates in the future may very well need to heavily factor this in to stay competitive in hiring skilled new employees.

The man who wore a dress to work in protest is a good example of how Millennial generations of workers are less afraid to take a stand and test boundaries to push for the change they feel is just. As worker trends and demands continue to shift towards the more casual end of the spectrum, it’s up to employers to determine their priorities and decide what makes the best sense for their operation.

The big question is how will employers balance the desire for professionalism while maintaining the need to attract and retain top talent in a competitive job market? Additionally, is a strict dress code even a requirement to excel in most industries today? Only time will tell, but be mindful that prospective employees will be paying close attention and increasingly weighing in.

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