Workplace Attire – Why Casual Dress Has Become So Popular

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California has often been the birthplace for much of our pop-culture and trendsetting behaviour –workplace attire was no exception. Several of the largest technology companies in existence today began in the garages of Silicon Valley, where wearing chino’s and sweaters took preference over the suit and tie.

It all started in the 1980s, where tech firms were insular, self-regulated, and male-dominated—a fertile combination for discarding norms and celebrating rule-breaking. (The Atlantic)

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, notorious for sporting a ‘bland’ dress style famously stated that “I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.” – referencing comments made about the lack of variety in his wardrobe. Although one of the most successful businessmen in the world, the mindset of Facebook’s CEO regarding workplace attire has not caught on with many industry leaders and professionals globally.

The idea that sloppy attire = sloppy work, whether based on fact or fiction, has often held sway over the decision makers of many organisations when choosing to adopt a casual workplace dress code.

Granted, it is something that is still highly dependent on certain positions and industries – nonetheless, the paradigm of professionalism is moving towards casualness.

With Millennials now being the largest generation in the workforce, it is only natural that office dress attitudes have shifted along with the demographic change. Millennial workers view the results of their labour as the determining factor to their efficiency – not how they got there nor how they dressed while doing so.

Why should you implement a casual dress code into your workplace?

‘When you look good you feel good’ isn’t just a marketing phrase used to sell make-up products.

  • Wearing clothing that makes you feel comfortable and confident can increase a worker’s overall satisfaction.
  • Allowing employees to express personalisation through their outfits will promote creativity and improve worker fulfilment.
  • Progressive workplaces that make coming to work enjoyable reap the benefits of enhanced productivity. Removing certain boundaries on clothing adds to that feeling of progressiveness and forward thinking amongst the staff.

How to implement a casual dress code into your workplace:

Whether you are the decision maker or an employee looking to suggest change, here are some steps on how to get the ball rolling towards wearing your jeans and t-shirt in the office.

1. Start Small

Implement a casual dress Friday, if you haven’t already. Before you completely overhaul of your policy - test how it is received.

2. Analyse the results

Gauge worker satisfaction and employee performance after changing the dress code.

3. Drop the Formality

You don’t need to hold a seminar to inform staff about how your dress code has become casual. Send an email and lead by example by adopting the new policy yourself.

Regardless of the new casual dress code, what is still deemed ‘inappropriate’ to wear in the office?

Your industry/organisation are still the top determining factors as to what is deemed appropriate or not.

With some generalisation – short dresses, torn jeans and un-ironed clothing are great places to start when considering what to avoid.

It is better to be safe than sorry when interacting with clients, attending trade shows or traveling in general. Dress professionally and respectfully to better represent your company’s image among the industry while out publicly.

Always gauge who you are speaking to – each person has a different opinion of professionalism. If you have a customer faced meeting with a member from an older generation, chances are they will be less accepting of your jean choice than a millennial start-up CEO.

What is Acceptable then?

This depends on the level of casualness in your office. Anything from khakis and polo shirts to jeans and t-shirts are okay dependant on your industry and managerial style.

The best advice for acceptable clothing solutions is to simply avoid the inappropriate list mentioned above. Make sure your clothes are clean, tidy and not revealing. If you have a client meeting or are in a customer facing role – then dress the part.

Generally speaking for men - jeans, khakis and buttoned shirts are acceptable. For women, a nice blouse, jeans, and chinos are a safe bet.

What was once a crazy new concept designed to show how trendy and progressive your company was, ‘casual dress Friday’ has slowly shifted to become the norm of everyday work.

There are countless benefits to implementing casual dress - from promoting individualism and inspiring creativity to adding more personality to the workplace.

Some people will still choose to continue to dress professional for work. And that is what makes it a great concept – choosing what makes you as an individual the most comfortable to maximise performance.

There is no one size fits all. What works for one company may not necessarily work for yours. Understand your company’s dynamics and brand image to determine the level of casualness that may be acceptable in the office.