Back to work outfits should make us think twice. Many of us have seen the situation as a return a week after giving birth (or in Europe-at-large after maternity leave), after the kids left the house, after being layed off, furloughed or unemployed and/or after a divorce. We all think we know the situation from It’s just another Monday – Sunday is Funday – as well as from the first day after a vacation or staycation. However, after more than one-and-a-half year of teleworking from home in PJs (or a white button-down and leggings in zoom meetings), this return is different. Even when your job requires wearing a uniform! Read what the back to work dress challenge is, why and how to master it to look your best and feel comfortable in your back to work outfits.
- Professional Attire in Clothing History
- Why Do We Still Have Work Dress Codes?
- Potential Birthplaces of New Work Dress Codes
- Stylish Monday August Back to Work Outfits in the World
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Professional Attire in Clothing History
In the Old World, centuries of sumptuary laws ensured to differentiate between the different professions and recognize the societal class a person belonged too. What to wear when performing your job also determined what you wore off duty. A culture of societal expectation developed with respect to the image of the profession.
In the 18th century, the suit became the attire of the aristocrates’ and other Rich’ sons, who stood for the ideals of social equality, moral values, sobriety, and modesty and embraced practicality and the industrial development, i.e. the Industrial Revolution. They abonndoned the velvet, silk, brocades and other adorments of their previous generations. As it often happends with fashion tribes, over time the suit became mainstream.
In the 19th centrury, the suit became to goto for the bourgois men. The distinction from the suits of the aristocrats was in fabric quality and craftsmanship only. The suit distinguished the employee from the worker. When more women entered the job market, they wore skirt suits and pantsuits as work attire.
In the 1960 and 1970s, another youth tribe again rebelled against the older generation. The Hippies culture introduced jean and T-shirt everywhere for everything. This generation also founded the startups of software companies and was central to the computer and digital revolution. As CEOs, they think they are too busy to care about their appearance, and are still wearing their jeans and Tees. The same generation’s women fought for wearing jeans and/or pants at school. Today, T-shirts and jeans are mainstream for everyone, but not (yet) a work dress code except as Casual Friday outfit.
Looking at the history of fashion of dress codes, casual style might be the next work dress code with posh casual for the corporate work field. Who knows?
Why Do We Still Have Work Dress Codes?
Some of the clothing is for practical reason and protection. Think the helmet of construction workers, the heat resistant attire of fire fighters, or sun protective glasses for astronauts.
Uniforms indicate the corporate identity, identification and/or authority. Who would recognize a police (wo)man in civil clothing and respect them regulating the traffic? You wouldn’t follow the orders of a flag (wo)man when they wouldn’t wear the uniform of the DOT (Department of Transportation). Whom would you turn to at a restaurant for a refill or the spill kit, if the waiters/waitresses wouldn’t be recognizable?
Employers implement a dress code or appearance policy to ensure that their employees meet the expectations of potential customers or clients and fit the professional image of the company.
Different Office Dress Codes Today
No wonder that professions dealing with other people’s money want to convey the message that they are paying attention to details and are serious. Consequently, corporate style has the tightest, most formal work dress code with respect to colors, cuts of garments and grooming.
Business casual style is an informal office dress code. The attire is casual, but conservative. How conservative and how casual differs strongly among work fields, even within the same field, see for example, the dress codes in engineering. In general, the requirements also depend on whether or not, you have contact with clients/customers.
The creative work field dress code leaves you the most freedom, but it has the highest pressure to express your creativity.
Potential Birthplaces of New Work Dress Codes
Historically, universities were strongly related to dress codes and changes in how the mainstream dressed in following decades. For instance, the preppy style developed from how the students of the Ivy League Universities dressed.
Universities are a strange fish when it comes to dressing. Only for commencement, it is clearly stated to wear full regalia. In labs, there may be certain safety dress codes. A reminder to follow them may read
Don’t look into the laser with your remaining eye.
Today, you can tell engineering faculty from faculty in the liberal arts, biology, chemistry and physical sciences based on their clothing. Sometimes the latter look like Scotty accidently beamed them from under the bridges of Paris on campus. It may be the attitude of intellectual freedom. Or, it might be the high workload expectations that make many hard science professors to just spend the minimum effort on dressing to not freeze to hypothermia in winter and not get into trouble with HR or campus police in summer. Female science students still fear to look their best.
For trends in fashion evolution, it’s the students, the young generation to whom you have to look to. There are the hipsters, athleisure wearers, sustainable or vegan fashion wearers, the recyclers and upcyclers. Sure, once in the work field, they will adapt the dress code. However, their current fashion will become mainstream over the next decades.
Why You Should Check Your Work Wardrobe before Going Back to Work?
Most of us had built our spring/summer wardrobe already before COVID-19 shut down almost everything. Sure we bought trendy updates for work. Despite they will be “new” for your colleagues, check whether they are still trendy. At a certain age, wearing an outdated trend not only looks old-fashioned, but also conveys the (wrong) message that you are not up-to-date anymore or lost contact to reality. These messages can be adverse for your professional advancement because they might be associated with your professional knowledge and work performance as well.
Make sure your clothes send the message you want them to send.
Thus, as soon as you receive notification when you should come back to work instead of working from home, inspect your work wardrobe for fit and trends. Make a list of what is missing, a budget and update your wardrobe for fit, style and trends.Check your work wardrobe for style, fit and trends, when you get notified to come back to the office. #dress4success #backtowork Click To Tweet
Learn How to Dress for Success in Midlife. Buy the book now.
Stylist tip: If this back to work is a new job, don’t buy a complete new wardrobe just yet. Instead dress in the first weeks on the job and create your work wardrobe as suggested in the linked post.
Stylish Monday August Back to Work Outfits in the World
My blogging friends from Stylish Monday show further back to work outfits today. Visit their blogs or Instagram posts to see what their dress code demands. You will be astonished how different the back to work outfits are in the different professions, US states and continental Europe as well as the UK. Check it out, it’s fun.
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This post was featured on Links à la Mode fashion roundup by Independent Fashion Bloggers.
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- How to Master the Style Challenge of Back to Work Outfits by High Latitude Style
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- 5 Chic Fashion Items to Elevate Any Basic Outfit by The Wardrobe Stylist
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Döbler, Hannsferdinand, 1972. Kultur und Sittengeschichte der Welt – Kleidung, Mode, Schmuck. Bertelsmann Verlag, München, Germany.
Smithsonian, 2019. Women: Our Story. DK Publishing, New York.
TASCHEN (Editor), 2015. Fashion History from the 18th to the 20th Century, Bibliotheca Universalis.
Thompson Ford, Richard (2021) Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History. Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Young, Caroline, 2016. Style Tribes, Frances Lincoln Ltd.
Photos of me: G. Kramm
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