Is the corporate dress code dead?

Workplaces were already changing their office dress codes before the pandemic, and many had to make room for more diverse, expressive styles. With remote working, white collar work clothes have become more casual, from old sweatshirts to leggings and even pajama pants. Now that people are starting to return to the office, it’s likely that even the most closed spaces in businesses will be at least a little more relaxed, experts say.

Jessica Cadmus, New York-based stylist and personal shopper, known professionally as Wardrobe whisperer, has seen this dress code evolve dramatically in the corporate world. About 90% of her clients are in finance, and she herself is a Goldman Sachs alumnus. Dress codes in the financial industry have always had the most conservative formal standards, and even these are changing.

Before the pandemic, in 2019, Sachs posted a note stating: “Given our corporate philosophy and the changing nature of workplaces generally in favor of a more relaxed environment, we believe now is the right time to move to a flexible dress code at scale. of the company. Cadmus said other companies like Morgan Stanley have issued similar memos, making room for more casual options, like sneakers instead of moccasins.

However, Cadmus and Richard Ford, professor at Stanford Law School and author of “Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History”, thinks that this casual trend is more complicated than replacing a blazer with a sweatshirt. “There was this message that things are going in a more relaxed direction, but you have to read between the lines,” Cadmus said.

While explicit dress codes have become more flexible in corporate spaces, making suits and ties optional and even allowing jeans in the office, according to Cadmus, each workplace has its own implicit standards. Discovering them is a way for new hires to prove themselves. “I think there is an inherent expectation that you will be adjusted well enough and feel it enough to look around and be able to understand it without anyone telling you,” she said.

Quoting the Downtown uniform Ford’s Instagram account points out that a uniform can be disguised. The page features men believed to work in finance wearing the almost identical attire of pants, button-down shirt, and fleece vest, preferably from Patagonia. “Essentially, it’s just a modified form of the business suit, and that’s because they’re always keen to dress appropriately,” he said.

One of the potential pitfalls of more comfortable work clothes, Ford said, is the link with a growing lack of work-life balance. “It should be noted that the decision to allow employees to wear casual clothing corresponds to increasingly demanding business hours,” he said. While a garment can be work clothing, it stands to reason that you can still be dressed for work, breaking down another barrier between work and the rest of your life. This has of course been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The trend towards casual doesn’t affect all demographics in the same way. On Zoom calls, Cadmus noted that among his clientele, “Most of my guys, to be honest, were doing a mullet wardrobe: business upstairs, party downstairs.” On the other hand, his clients showed a wider range of choice of outfits varying in level of formality. Many of them have shown creativity and sophistication in their Zoom sets. Women have always been subjected to more scrutiny than men in the way they dress, Ford said, and it carries over to the workplace.

Race also plays a role when it comes to the implicit dress code. “I think people of color need the symbols of professionalism, including clothing, more than white men,” said Ford.

He gave the example of a guy Mark Zuckerberg wearing a hoodie against a black maneven in a corporate space. “For people of color, the laid-back, unpretentious ‘I don’t care how I’m dressed’ philosophy doesn’t work the same. People of color in the professional sphere have long had to navigate aesthetic minefields, to have the straight hair at good body type so that “trueness” is often coded as proximity to whiteness. Although some workplaces have faces prosecution for the ways in which their dress codes are discriminatory, there is still a long way to go when it comes to perceptions of professionalism.

If you’re unsure of what to wear when going from the living room to the boardroom, Cadmus recommended that you chat with someone from HR, and if you’re starting a new job, give yourself two weeks to figure out what’s normal. . and how you fit into it.

Ford said our ideas about what to wear and where to work have continued to change during the pandemic, and we’ll most likely see that reflected in workplace standards. “Anything you go to wear around the house will look more normal at work,” Ford said.

But Cadmus also noted that picking up a crumpled T-shirt off the floor and calling it a day will always receive censorship, subtle or otherwise.

“Careful consideration of your aesthetic and how you present yourself to the world is always important,” Cadmus said. “It didn’t die with COVID.”

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Daniel Lange

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