The Feb 2022 slump explained… it is not all bad news.
As firms delay their return-to-office road map (again) discussing the greater impact seems timely. Quite frankly you are not alone if remote working has you experiencing an unsuspecting slump as we enter year number three of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is well documented that the lack of social interaction and office routine is to blame for the lingering anxiety and uncertainty. Conceptually, this is neither new nor revolutionary. However, holding onto the belief that donning a suit (eventually) signifies life returning to ‘normal’ is a damaging misconception. Why? Because that day may never come...and quite honestly it is a good thing - let me explain (bear with me please).
Prior to Covid-19, formal company dress codes were already relaxing. Arguably, open office floor plans featuring activity-based collaboration areas initiated this trend. Modified physical workspaces promoted flattened hierarchies, having cascading effects on relaxed working environments and casual office attire. Such evolution is consistent with the high business uptake of design thinking methodologies to beneficially drive employee creativity and foster customer-centric innovation.
However, Covid-19 expedited this trend rendering causal workwear the default. The t-shirt and jeans trend synonymous with Silicon Valley is now as prolific as the pandemic itself. Essentially, compulsory corporate wear was entirely replaced overnight with sweats, loungewear an pyjamas. (That is, for at least for those firms prioritising and respecting the needs and wants of their employees).
Juggernauts within the tailored suit fashion industry are also betting on this permanent shift by flipping over on years of established brand identity to diversify into casual wear. Hugo Boss’s newest rebrand into a "more relaxed, sporty aesthetic" front-lined by a new generation of celebrities including Hailey Bieber is a perfect example. If Hugo Boss’s product diversification leaves you unconvinced, here are six more reasons to mark the end of the suit and tie era.
The ‘Great Resignation’ is thankfully restoring and stabilising the power imbalance between employers and employees. With high job supply and low employee demand, job seekers are now more empowered than ever before. Firms now bear the onus of pitching their offerings to attract candidates. This includes workwear flexibility.
Similarly, due to increasing gig economy job seekers can effortlessly find employment to meet their individual needs and wants. Companies enforcing a strict uniform or dress code is reason enough for some job hunters to find another employer. Obviously for client facing roles this is not always practical. But for the general white-collar workforce consisting of lawyers, accountants, advisors, engineers, marketers, graphic designers etc. dress codes are redundant.
Covid-19 has cemented remote working as a necessity and not optional. Employers enticing job seekers with work-flexibility is no longer an unconscionable excuse to justify paying below-market salaries.
Businesses have more pressing things to focus on like becoming a “Global Citizen”. Focusing on trivial matters such as corporate dress code are tone deaf in an era of the awakened customer. Instead, companies must focus their efforts on equal rights for LGTBQ+ and racial minority groups, gender diversity, and operating sustainably at all levels of business. Commitment tokenism including greenwashing or setting apathetic diversity and inclusions targets is far more brand damaging and salient than employees’ workwear.
Remote working and Zoom have become inseparable. However, in year three of the pandemic, the stress and anxiety of camera-fatigue have set in. Nowadays, turning cameras on is no longer mandatory or a daily expectation. This means no rules and any attire goes… provided staff are attentive and participatory.
The UK are leading the charge when it comes to a four-day work week. As more and more firms trial and adopt the shorter working weeks, holding onto and enforcing archaic dress codes is counterintuitive and inconsistent with their progressive branding strategies.
Collectively, the workforce and consumers have determined that corporate attire is out of favour. A sentiment I am completely at peace with for many reasons.
Job access is democratised. University graduates or people re-entering the workforce after an extended break or hardship do not necessarily have financial means or access to ‘interview appropriate’ outfits. Rejecting society’s version of acceptable attire, and redefining workwear removes barriers to employment. Although the solution is simple, its impact is tangible. Vulnerable people can now catch a break and land a job regardless of their current wardrobe situation. Nb. Suited to Success is a charity directly addressing this employment hurdle by providing free corporate attire and styling.
Less textile waste. Flexible dress codes eliminate the need to maintain a separate work and leisure wardrobe. This encourages employees to adopt capsule wardrobes, which reduces over-consumption.
No more dry cleaning. Reducing dry cleaning has a positive environmental impact, whilst simultaneously reducing human exposure to Perchloroethylene (PERC), a suspected cancer-causing chemical.
For women (cisgender and transgender) in particular this movement is beneficial. Hair and makeup sets back women on average 7 hours a week. For decades, wearing a full face of makeup and having perfectly polished hair at work has been culturally enforced. Staggeringly some employment contracts still mandate this. Working from home has normalised ponytails and messy buns. But most significantly, it has normalised natural complexions including visible pores, textured skin, hormonal acne, and pigmentation. Total reliance on zoom meetings has reconfigured the beauty standard that has been polluted by social media, photoshop and beauty filters. Cost savings associated with fewer cosmetic and beauty product purchases also represents a step towards financial gender equality (and reduced environmental waste).
Finally, no more high heels. Both chiropractors and women (cisgender and transgender) are rejoicing. Calves, feet and backs worldwide are relieved.
Relaxed workwear may be just a silver lining in a pandemic, but take the small win and run with it my friends. I am a half cup full type, however I do recognise that this year has already been challenging for many. Sometimes comfort is found in articulating the collateral benefits and simply knowing you are not alone. Take care besties.