It’s a New World Out There!
In just the past five years, the world of work has changed as well as the clothing we wear for it! What was once considered “Business Casual” is simply business as usual. The high-tech industry, according to Google, Apple and Facebook, has transformed the image of what an executive looks like or what anyone wears to work. In the past, business attire was a suit; however, that no longer represents all professionals or the average work environment.
In my former book, Your Executive Image, the suit was the principal form of nonverbal communication for the workplace. When I was promoting it back in the early 90s, some people would say, “. . . but I don’t wear a suit!” And that’s true, particularly now. Today, there are a lot of jobs and careers that don’t require a suit but the need to look professional is paramount.
Moreover, in many occupations, going to work without a jacket, in jeans, or wearing other formerly “casual” clothing is now considered appropriate. When I look through the pages of catalogs from which I once purchased suits, these items are no longer part of the retailer’s merchandise mix. Things have indeed changed, but neither for better or worse.
Bottom line: Realize that dressing for work is just that, dressing appropriately. Coming to work looking like Hollywood’s latest red carpet fashion stroll, the cover of GQ, or the sexy housewives of Orange County doesn’t work for business either. These are not definitions of business attire. Work apparel is still conservative, since building a bridge and functioning easily with different people on a daily basis is a must. We just have more options than formal or informal or suits and business casual.
Why the Change?
Among the reasons that the suit has not remained the prevailing code of dress for the workplace is economics. The cost of living has risen and buying a suit can be very expensive. The last global recession really impacted individuals’ ability to maintain a roof over their heads and food for their family. Employers have become sensitive to this issue and have relaxed their dress policies to accommodate this new reality.
Another reason is the diversity in the workplace. We are fortunate to have a multitude of ethnicities living in the US as well as throughout the world. And in this environment, each person brings their own style of dress to the workplace – whether for religious or other cultural reasons. In addition to that is the influence of pop culture. Actors, designers, singers and artists of all types are bringing their own take on what constitutes dressing up for events such as TV interviews or even the Oscars!
Another reason why the suit is not the mainstay for work is the influence of women in the workplace. Women have long established themselves at work, and wearing a navy or black suit that mimics menswear is not advantageous for them today. Amazing, but it only took a court case for women to be allowed to wear pants to work!
Additionally, baby boomers, who make up the largest market segment globally, are aging, and with that comes the need for more comfortable clothing suitable for work. The members of this segment have established themselves in their profession and they can now take it a little bit easier. Lycra-blended fabrics, softer materials, and less structured apparel with more ease have replaced structure and confinement found in traditional work apparel. The baby boomers were the generation that vowed to always wear jeans, and so, with the introduction of a fine denim weave suitable for trousers, we now have the ability to go back to wearing our “jeans” even to work!
Finally, there is the influence of business casual policies, once initiated to boost employee morale and confined to “Casual Fridays.” This look has now become the mode for every day of the week. As a result, the clothing industry has created lots of options that are considered just as appropriate for work.
No Longer “One Size Fits All”
What you wear to work makes all the difference for you, your workplace, and ultimately your business success. First of all, when you feel good about how you look, you feel better about yourself. At work, you take on a business-like, serious attitude, and with it, you perform better. When you look good, people around you respond in a positive manner. When you take the time to dress appropriately for work, coworkers and customers respond to you as a professional.
In the past, there was just one “uniform,” the suit, that defined a professional. Now there are many that are just as appropriate and “business like.” Earlier, it almost seemed that if you wore a suit then you were “dressed for success.” However, you can now be in jeans and be seen just as serious about your work and success. We have dropped the “one size fits all” model of what constitutes work apparel or a successful business image, and this has opened the door to many more acceptable options.
Yes, today you have many choices available besides the suit, depending on your corporate culture, where you live, and what you do. In fact, what we wear to work is a continuum of possibilities that may change, depending on the various needs of your business, the seasons of the year, and who you’re meeting. It is no longer an “either or” situation; it’s a range of choices for the workplace that work for you and works for business.