How work attire has changed since Covid

How work attire has changed since Covid

Q. These days, with so much emphasis on casual dressing, do people still care how they dress at work? It seems that offices had stopped caring about dress rules even before Covid. Now with hybrid work arrangements, with getting employees to return to the office, and with keeping them at all, employers must move on from strict dress codes. Even those who do care about how they look are resistant to returning to their former suit-and-tie daily routine? I don’t know why you don’t just write about fashion. 

A. I appreciate your writing and while I do address fashion to some extent, I have found that men care much more about being appropriate and comfortable in their clothing. A secondary concern, that far fewer men focus on, is fashion. Even so, there definitely are many people who care about how to dress at work. While you are correct that a lot of offices are making concerted efforts to bring back workers, they are also raising alarms about those returning to the workplace who are dressing inappropriately.

There is still a difference between what a person wears at home and what is appropriate at the office. Companies are especially concerned with the apparel of employees who deal with customers, and with the risk that inappropriate dress may create issues. One example of this concern was an email sent out recently by a mid-sized company’s HR Department to all office employees. It was quite specific in its intention and direction.  

The subject line read: Dress Code Reminder                                                              

“As we move further into the summer and welcome new employees, we think it appropriate to remind all workers of our expectations regarding office attire.

 Our general guidelines for professional attire include:

  • Clothing should be clean and of an appropriate length.
  • T-shirts, tank tops, shorts, flip-flops, athletic wear, and leggings are not permitted.                                       

If you have any questions or need clarification, please review the company dress code in your employee handbook and don’t hesitate to reach out with questions.

Thank you for your cooperation!”                                                                                                    

This directive was aimed at both male and female employees. It makes clear that the company really does care about how its employees dress and, thus, how they represent the company’s image. Although many claim that a person’s way of dressing is not connected to how well he performs at work, sending out such a clear-cut set of directions points out that employers are not currently so relaxed about correct professional attire as one might think. 

I am reminded of another example of how major companies feel about the appearance of its employees. Several years ago, when I was busy traveling on the lecture circuit to corporate conferences to give my how-to-dress-professionally lectures, it was made clear to me that the companies wanted me to do for them what they were not comfortable doing on their own. That is, while they did not want to appear to be telling their employees how to dress, they did very much want them to dress in a business-like and professional manner. So, they hired me to speak at their major meetings and demonstrate to their employees how they should dress. I was their go-between to get across their somewhat touchy topic.                                            

Of course, I enjoyed the role, as well as the positive feedback I often received about the improvements they saw following the meeting.

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