Is the formal dress code in the office extinct?

Written by Andrea Frith

The formal dress code has been drifting away over the last decade and the pandemic has probably finished this practice for good.

In 2020 the business-fashion sector saw a dramatic decline and some companies saw up to a 90% decline in profit.  Workers across the globe swapped their offices for their homes and downgraded their outfits accordingly.

Pre -pandemic we were encouraged to dress for the occasion and to be smart as this should bolster our sense of purpose and productivity. There is also the thinking that business dress creates the best impression. Potentially this dates back as far as the Victorian era when professional, educated and wealthy men wore high-quality suits which signalled status and influence.

The business dress obsession peaked in the 1980s and was identified as the `power suit` and it became a generalisation with terminology such as `blue collar` and `white collar` differentiating office workers and manual workers.

Fast forward to the present day and the majority of workwear offers a more functional approach and comfort becomes more important. Working with the new hybrid future means the need for office clothing will probably never return to the levels of previous years.

The interesting question is how this will evolve as more face-to-face meetings take place. Will the need to “dress up” when you meet with people from outside the company become common practice? If you were to present to clients, pitch for business etc, will it still be expected that suits are worn?

The real question is, does business dress produce the results you want?
There is also the fact that we are currently in a candidate-driven recruitment market and so employers will be more flexible and allow employees to make the choices. The novelty of casual dress and the treat of “dress down Fridays” will wear off and become expected. Business meetings and how they are conducted have under a huge change since the Pandemic. It is unlikely that “the suit” will ever make a return and become a norm.

Finally, a question that is asked more and more recently is, should I wear a suit to an interview? There is no correct answer to this, but it is probably the safer option to always air on the side of caution and opt for the smarter option.

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