New Trends In Office Attire Say Mess is Best
by Rachel Balik
There’s a new trend in dressing down for work; it appears that the less you care about clothes, the more you care about your job.
Dress code standards are sinking in direct relationship with the economy. Now it seems like casual dress at the office is a merit badge proving that you’re doing your best to facilitate the upswing. Wired says that wearing comfortable, or even messy, clothes implies that you’re working too hard to bother wearing a suit to work. The fashion trends set during the dot-com craze are partially responsible for the current state of affairs: suddenly, the people in charge were young and refused to part with their T-shirts and sneakers. That era has come and gone, but it swept away the suit jacket and left behind employees who are wearing whatever’s comfortable. Dressing casually also shows that you’re attuned to the economy, an awareness that for most is probably genuine. It’s hard to explain to others why you need a new custom-made shirt when the next round of layoffs could be just around the corner.
In 2006, employees at a Canadian newspaper enlisted the help of their union to argue that a proposed dress code wasn’t going to improve performance at work. The Kitchener-Waterloo Record tried to abolish blue jeans, flip-flops, Birkenstocks, track pants and tank tops at the office, but the arbitrator ruled that unless a certain type of dress prevented an employee from doing his work, it was acceptable. The arbitrator also questioned specific stipulations of the dress code, saying, “One might reasonably ask why expensive, designer blue jeans would not be acceptable, but cheap knock-off black jeans would be acceptable.” Labor lawyer Tim Gleason argued the case, and according the Globe and Mail, explained, “It is a lot tougher for employers because society is loosening up quite a bit.”
Many workplaces have accepted the changing trends and attitudes, and business formal now seems like the exception. But many employees still don’t know what their companies really mean by the term “business casual.” One 24-year-old woman at a Philadelphia marketing firm was reprimanded for wearing capris, Bermuda shorts and sleeveless tops to work, reported USA Today in 2007. “Each generation seems to have a different idea of what is acceptable in the workplace, and in this situation I was highly offended,” she said. The article noted that there was a backlash against both the sloppiness of the dot-com era and a growing tendency of employees to overstep the boundary between casual wear and attire viewed as business-inappropriate. On one hand, employees feel they’re entitled to loosen up. “Having a relaxed environment encourages you to think more openly,” one IBM researcher said after the company went dress code-free. But not all bosses agree. One CEO of a California marketing firm revealed, “We went through a too-casual period … In the aftermath of the dot-com bubble, we tightened things up a little. When we were very casual, the quality of the work wasn't as good.”