Fri 30 Jul 2010
Had another flashback yesterday to my early corporate days. I was at a client site waiting in the lobby for her assistant to “sign me in”. It was a few minutes before 9AM so I got to witness the mad rush of employees scurrying to badge in before 9AM. It dawned on me that today’s corporate version of the 20th Century time clock had become the badge activated turnstiles found in most large organizations. But I digress. As I observed the staff passing by me I was struck by the casualness of their dress. Now I don’t mean the typical casual Friday type garb. I mean jeans, crocs, T shirts – c a s u a l.
For someone who has seen corporate dress go from suits to khakis to jeans, it’s an amazing sight to see and shows me again how far we’ve come. When I started out in corporate back in the day, there were only 2 types of suits you could wear – navy blue & dark gray. Now granted, I worked for a bank so the stodginess level skyrockets but even still, most corporate workers wore suits. At the time, there was a very popular book called “Dress for Success” by John Molloy which all wannabe corporate types read because it explained what the corporate uniform was at the time. We all embraced it. Even the women.
There was a “Women’s Dress for Success” edition which basically was a carbon copy of the one for men except it left room for a tiny little more splash of color and a few acceptable accessories such as a conservative pin or brooch. Pantsuits were absolutely not allowed. I remember that for years, I never wore a pantsuit to work. All my clothes were suits with very long skirts or very conservative and boring dresses. The colors: Black, navy blue, charcoal gray. We basically copied the men. If you wanted to really go crazy you’d wear a kerchief with wild colors like pale pink or blue, light gray or white. On the rare occasion that you wanted to be insanely different and wanted to wear, say a blouse with a pattern on it, you’d avoid eye contact all day and pray that you wouldn’t be noticed too much.
We did everything we could to look like men. Over the years, we started adding bolder colors to our suits, we occasionally wore a nice conservative pantsuit and in the summer months when our legs were a bit tanner, we threw caution to the wind and left our pantyhose at home. After many, many years, we felt comfortable putting away our Dress for Success Bible. Actually many of us used its pages to stoke up the fireplace in the winter.
When companies began experimenting with casual Fridays, I remember thinking it was just a fad that wouldn’t last. Employees running around the company with khaki pants and nicely pressed long sleeve shirts or polo shirts? Are you kidding? Well, after a few years, I realized I had to go out and get another wardrobe for work. Shocking… Oh, and by the way, I always thank Generation Xers for pushing the envelope and getting companies to accept casual Fridays and a less uptight dress code.
Casual Fridays led to casual everyday to finally, the uber casual of today. Employees are going into the workplace as comfortable as can be. They express themselves not only in the casualness of their clothes but in the casualness of their accessories – whether that is a nose ring or a colorful tattoo on the arm or the leg. My, how the pendulum on corporate dress has swung. Some think it has swung too far. Of course there are still many industries (law, for example) and companies that have never embraced the uber casual of today but most fit somewhere in between.
My philosophy: as long as it fits with the norms of your clients, you should be ok. It certainly beats wearing an uncomfortable navy blue suit with a stupid kerchief and pantyhose on a blistering 90 degree summer day.
Happy Friday, everybody! For those of you that still work in an office, what did you wear to work today?