If you have been in the business world over the last two decades or so, you have witnessed major workplace transformations. From seeing typewriters replaced by computers to witnessing the death of individual offices in favor of space-saving cubicles, you’ve seen a lot.
Technology has changed the workplace as we know it, and in addition to changing the tools we use to get the job done, it has changed the way we work. Today, there is a greater focus than ever before on ensuring that staff members are comfortable and happy. Business owners are embracing more flexible, transparent environments where employees are treated as team members and encouraged to make their own decisions regarding many things about their jobs – including what they wear.
Professional dress codes have changed significantly over the past two decades, and the typical office-appropriate outfit in 2018 looks nothing like what would have been seen as appropriate in 1998. While there have been a lot of changes, appropriate workplace attire is still hotly debated among those in upper management roles. How have professional dress codes evolved (or devolved) for 2018? Let’s take a closer look.
How Professional Dress Codes Have Changed
Just a few short decades ago, what employees should wear to work in a professional environment wasn’t even a question. Men went to work wearing suits and ties, and women wore either dresses or skirts paired with nice blouses. Regardless of where one worked within the company, everyone was expected to dress professionally – even if they spent their entire day sitting independently at their desks.
Advancements in technology have changed the way we work. Now, instead of working by ourselves, we use a range of tools to collaborate. From messaging apps like Slack that allow us to connect with our co-workers throughout the day to video calling platforms that enable us to collaborate with clients, and even other team members, across the country and around the world, technology has made it possible for businesses to tear down walls – literally and figuratively – and encourage collaboration.
But what does that have to do with professional dress codes? Well, as the way we work has changed, it has caused the workforce to evolve. Today’s workforce is composed of a blend of people from different generations, cultural backgrounds and nationalities. These changes have brought about many differing views on what is appropriate to wear in the workplace.
Executives from older generations still hold beliefs that it is necessary to “look the part” in the business world and feel that employees should come to work wearing dresses or suits and ties. Many of them found, however, that instituting “casual Fridays” and allowing workers to dress more casually once in a while boosted employee morale and actually increased productivity. Learning from this, many of even the most old-school executives have adopted business casual dress codes in an effort to keep employees happier and more productive.
The Role of Start-Ups
Fast forward to 2018, and you will see new businesses popping up every day. Start-ups are taking over the world, and they are revolutionizing business as we know it. Rather than focusing on things like stuffy dress codes, they emphasize the importance of company culture and collaboration. These young business owners have ditched the suit and tie in favor of branded t shirts and tailored jeans, thus creating a whole new meaning for “business appropriate attire.”
Most owners of start-ups don’t spend their days focusing on things like inflexible schedules, strict dress codes, or even rigid attendance policies. Instead, they are changing the way businesses operate by focusing on employee empowerment. The employee empowerment movement is based upon the idea that when workers feel capable, confident and in control of the outcome of their work, they feel more empowered to work efficiently without being micromanaged or requiring significant oversight.
By allowing employees some flexibility within a broad set of guidelines, it is possible for business owners and upper management to feel more empowered and in control. When workers are given freedom of choice and feel that they have a degree of control over their environments, they tend to be more productive. Having a bit of freedom also increases their satisfaction with the workplace.
Do Clothes Really Make the Man (Or Woman)?
With startup owners making strict dress codes a thing of the past and older executives embracing the idea of a more casual workplace, the overall perceptions of work-appropriate attire have shifted dramatically. While some feel that this is a de-evolution, others see it as an evolution that has allowed employees to focus more on their jobs and less on what they are wearing.
In customer-facing roles, a certain degree of professionalism is still to be expected. However, the classic suit and tie has largely been abandoned in many industries in favor of more comfortable business casual attire. Many companies have also switched from strict uniforms to more laid-back options like blank t shirts bearing company logos and dress jeans. For people working in jobs that do not require working with the public, the dress code has become even less strict.
In 2018, more and more business owners from all generations and in all industries have come to realize that clothes don’t necessarily make the man (or woman). Instead, they have shifted their attention to things like encouraging collaboration and building meaningful relationships between employees, management and customers.
So, are the dress code changes we’ve seen over the last several years an evolution or a de-evolution? As we see it, focusing less on what employees need to wear has created a happier and more productive workplace. In our eyes, that’s definitely a positive evolution!