Every Friday, CasinoBeats is thinking out loud
THE explosive growth of the internet and gigantic leaps forward in digital communications technology are probably as good a reason as any why so few of us are wearing high heels and/or power suits to work these days.
The findings of a survey published earlier this year revealed that in the UK just 50 per cent of workplaces across the country has a dress code policy. For more than three quarters of these businesses, it is a casual dress code policy.
Fewer of us are actually meeting with our customers/suppliers/end users in person and more of us are being permitted – even encouraged – to work from home. The boundaries are blurring. The days of collecting a hat from the stand near the door and commuting to the office – and only beginning your work duties upon arrival, rather than on your smartphone on the way in – are long gone.
Work is creeping into home life and, by way of often-wonky compensation, home is more visible at work. Twenty years ago, making any kind of personal call from one’s desk was heavily frowned upon. Now we are each never more than a metre from a handheld window to the world and a channel to everyone we know. Try getting your employees to put their phones away and then asking them to keep an eye on their work email while out of the office. And good luck. You can’t have one without the other.
Perhaps the same is true of what we wear to work. Anyone expected to don traditional business attire for their workplace could be forgiven for not giving the day job a second thought once the tie has been loosened/heels kicked off. It’s a deal with the devil, if not for your soul then certainly for your intellectual real estate.
And that comes back to value. What does any one employee bring to a company? Consider the CV (or the American résumé). Aside from jobs involving uniforms or safety gear, how many of those detail what potential employees wear? With confidence, we can say close to zero – beyond claims of professionalism and presentability, which should not need yoking to a dress code.
After all, is it not a personal matter, what we wear? One might be expected to be ‘presentable’ but, beyond that, it’s your business. Unless you are meeting third parties, whether that be clients, members of the public or royalty, it is felt more strongly that ever that no-one should be telling you what to wear.
“…a person wearing a well-fitting suit, good shoes and a smart watch does exude a certain gravitas“
The notion of a ‘power’ suit is now viewed as a bit old fashioned, naive even, predicated as it is on the idea that one could assume authority and command respect by scouring the Next sale for sufficiently thin ties. It is seen as a throwback to the eighties, days of greed and Wall Street and boom-and-bust. “Look how dumb we all were thinking a tailored suit would make us better at our jobs.”
On the other hand, a person wearing a well-fitting suit, good shoes and a smart watch does exude a certain gravitas. This is why many of us jeans-wearers still dress up for client meetings or conferences. Dressing this way might suggest that this person should be taken seriously. Or it might say that this person is compensating for a lack of experience or knowledge, or confidence. It’s a dangerous game.
And, decency aside, this is the issue with doing away with a workplace dress code (any encouragement to sartorially be oneself would soon be kiboshed if you turned up to the office in your girlfriend’s ill-fitting leopard-print onesie and flip-flops).
Any clothing that presents you as something other than yourself also presents a risk that, at work, you will play a role. Dressing up for a role might sound like a shortcut to success but it really is not.
“…be yourself. there are smart versions of you and a duvet-day version and even a drunk edition, but they are all you“
The key here is to be yourself. Yes, there are smart versions of you and a duvet-day version and even a drunk edition, but they are all you. You want to wear a pencil skirt and heels? Go for it. Your old Nottingham Forest shirt? Why not.
When employers stop telling their staff what to wear it is refreshing just how quickly clothing becomes an absolute non-issue. Decades of the popular dress-down Friday culture have helped us all to get to know one another better: “Oh, you’re support Forest?”, “Wow, you have a massive Michael Bublé tattoo?”
CB once worked at a large international consultancy that had a dress code for dress-down Friday, hastily renamed Casual Friday after one too many people foolishly came into work dressed as themselves. This Casual Friday dress code – essentially polo shirts, chinos and deck shoes – made every male who adhered look like they were playing the role of a board director on a golf course. Which is funny, since the all-staff memo had been drafted by a board director on a golf course.
Replacing one dress code with another is not the point. Dressing more casually – which should really be read as “more comfortably” – is about removing the pretence, taking away another barrier to the job in hand and eliminating the role play. It is about freedom, to be oneself.
If like so many of us you work in a kind of bubble where you mostly see only colleagues and no third parties, then there should be no need to dress up and play grown-ups in the name of productivity.
It is not about your threads any more than it is about your age, ethnicity or gender. It’s what’s between your ears that counts.