Workplace Fashion: A view on how COVID has challenged the perceptions of what professional attire and dress codes mean today.

By Jordyn Potratz, Public Relations Practitioner

According to Indeed, professional business attire is a formal dress code common in more traditional workplace settings. It includes wearing subdued, solid colours, suits, dress shirts, and matching belts and loafers/oxfords for males. For females, it typically includes dresses, skirts, slacks, button-down shirts, blouses, blazers, and shoes like loafers, flats, or heels. Females and males also have the option of accessorizing with watches and minimal jewelry.

Professional attire can be defined differently depending on the size of the organization you work for, what the organization does, what your role is in the organization, and what your gender is. However, it is highly likely the organization you work for will have a dress code on professional attire.

Dress codes over the decades have drastically changed. In the past, dress codes often signaled what field of work the person worked in; Wisestep, a Data-Driven, Intelligent and Agile Recruitment Software Built for Everyone, mentions who they are, 

“In corporations, men are required to wear clean, business clothes that might
include shirt and trousers. In the law and banking firms, employees
(lawyers and bankers) are expected to wear suits, neckties, and other formal outfits.”

In recent times, we can see this is not the case. Instead, organizations use dress codes as a means to illustrate the atmosphere and culture within the organization. COVID has challenged this with the recent modification of working from home.

Each decade has unique fashion trends, whether that be in business attire or street clothes. In the ’70s, jeans got wider, heels turned into platforms, and synthetic fabrics became widely used. What does this have to do with professional attire and dress codes? Well, the clothes we wear rely heavily on fashion trends. COVID hugely impacts the trends we see today in the workplace. Before COVID, dressing fully in professional business attire was normal. Now, depending on the day and whether any meetings are scheduled, we may not even get dressed. Because of this, stores that sold workwear have either gone out of business, reduced store numbers, or have diversified the clothes it sells.

What does this mean? Due to COVID’s outstanding job at challenging the definition around dress codes and professional business attire, professionals who are still working in an office setting or are planning to go back may have a more arduous mission finding work clothes. On the other hand, individuals who work for organizations that have taken the virtual, work-at-home approach do not have to worry about busting out their wallets and going on a mission to find work attire. Yet, each party of professionals should discuss the ‘new’ COVID dress code with their supervisors to stray away from accidentally displaying their unmentionables in a Zoom call, which is not only embarrassing but unprofessional.

Adjusting your daily routine while working from home can be challenging for many; for some keeping it cozy and casual while working from home is an easy transition because they use this free time to inspire creativity. For others, continuing their “normal” morning routine helps prepare them for the day ahead and keeps them on track in their work endeavours. There are plenty of pros and cons linking to COVID challenging the definition of dress codes and business attire.

Here are some pros:

Not going through a regular morning routine can free up time that can be allotted to extra sleep and inspiring                             productivity.
Better for your mental health, we live in a stressful time, so if sleeping in or not getting fully ready in the morning does not        affect your productivity, you can give yourself a  break.
An increase in funds, not spending money on work attire, and cleaning fees can free up some money that can be put                towards something else.
Taking the business on top, casual on the bottom approach when getting dress increased comfortability.
Can experiment with your look; extra time can be spent shopping through your wardrobe and testing new clothing                   combos.

Here are some cons:

Inability to maintain a routine, for some morning routines can be disturbed by working from home.
Sticking to wearing something you would generally wear may make you feel at ease and help maintain a routine.
Not feeling great, for some, getting dressed and sticking to a routine can make you feel better throughout your day.
Decreased hygiene, not going into an office setting every day can throw our personal hygiene off if you are not sticking to        a routine every day.

Every person is different. Our personalities and preferences are created with various life experiences, cultures, morals, values, and so much more. The clothes we wear often reflect our personalities so, dressing in work attire that reflects who you are can make a massive difference in your day.