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The question of whether or not to dress casually or informally for work is one of the many cultural norms that the pandemic has thrown into disarray. Some workplaces that were previously quite formal have now relaxed their standards (in alignment with increased working from home flexibility). Whereas in other workplaces, 2022 has seen an outpouring of folks lifting their sartorial standards even higher, no doubt partly due to the fact that they’ve missed out on dressing up for the past two years!

Prior to the pandemic, many office workplaces were already starting to transition towards a “dress for your day” culture, in which it was socially acceptable to wear an outfit that suited the type of work day you were going to have. For example, if you were seeing an important client, you might wear a suit, but if your day didn’t involve you seeing anyone external, then casual attire sufficed. Even companies that traditionally had more formal dress code requirements have been evolving. In early 2019 Goldman Sachs sent out a memo initiating a more relaxed approach, “given our firm philosophy and the changing nature of workplaces generally in favor of a more casual environment, we believe this is the right time to move to a firmwide flexible dress code.”

It is actually incumbent on HR or People & Culture teams to effectively communicate to their employees what each business believes is appropriate. Some workplaces do a poor job with this messaging and it leaves staff uncertain about what is appropriate to wear for work. This can lead to a big discrepancy between what employees decide is suitable to wear. Views on what we should wear to work can be quite polarising. At the extremes they fall into two camps.

Comfort is king

Advocates of comfortable work attire will argue that what a person wears is not indicative of their work ethic or professionalism. A case in point is the incredibly successful Atlassian billionaire, Mike Cannon-Broookes, who is often seen dressed in a white t-shirt and cap. Many office workers who spent their weekdays in stiff and uncomfortable clothes before the pandemic have embraced the comfort that working from home has given them. There are various admissions from people that they spent their working-from-home time dressed in pyjamas. Rolling out of bed and into the office in the same clothes is not advisable but in many modern workplaces dressing smart casual is now acceptable and why shouldn’t it be?

Dress for the part

Those that feel strongly about dressing formally in the office may seem to others to be stuck in a traditional and now outdated mindset. However, there are some solid reasons why you might want to consider sticking to a more formal dress code at work. One reason is that dressing the part can improve your confidence, attitude and (some would argue) your focus.

Another possible pitfall of casual work wear is that by wearing clothes to work that we also wear in our private lives, we are further blurring the lines of distinction between work and the rest of our life.

Richard Ford, professor at Stanford Law School, recently observed in this article that, “it’s worth noting that the decision to allow employees to wear casual clothing has corresponded to increasingly demanding business schedules.”

If you’re not certain about what to wear to work as you transition out of your home and back to the office, it’s a good idea to chat to someone in HR to gauge what the current state of play is in terms of appropriate attire in your particular workplace.