BLOG

Random thoughts, curated sporadically.

Who are you wearing?

You know the drill. You get out of bed, shower, do your hair and then climb into your work clothes. A straight skirt, straight shirt and a ... straight-jacket. At least it feels like a straight-jacket sometimes.

Some people are born looking like their profession. Even when they dress casually they look a little like it. And for them 'business casual' is only a slight deviation from the norm. But for others, dressing for their profession is like squeezing into someone else's clothes. They just don’t make you feel or look like a lawyer, designer, teacher, engineer, architect …

A while back PwC tore up their dress code in order to 'unlock the creativity and diversity' of their people. The decision seemed to be based on the premise that stifling individual expression hinders diversity, inclusion and creativity. All good thinking. But a change in code, without a deeper change in culture, may only establish a 'different kind of sameness'. 

Most companies don't have a written dress code; or at least one that people have actually read. That's because the way we choose to dress in a workplace is more deeply embedded in cultural norms than codes or policies.

To many, the relaxation of dress codes is nothing new. In the 1990s a global company I worked for decided to try on business casual for size. The safety net was the requirement that we had 'professional attire' in our office cupboard for a quick change should we have client meetings.

One guy started coming to work in a Hawaiian shirt, knee length shorts and black boots. He had always looked like he felt a little awkward in a suit and his version of ‘business casual’ confirmed those suspicions. But ignoring the extreme responses, we all jumped at the chance to dress as ourselves. And whether it was the appearance of a beard or a bright pair of pants - seeing our colleagues be themselves was akin to opening a window and letting the fresh air in.

Then a new MD arrived.

He arrived dressed to the nines in bespoke suiting, designer cuff links and very expensive shoes. His hair was Lego-Man-esque and he had shares in Gilette. He clearly didn't get the memo.

And things changed.

We all slowly morphed back into corporate. The achromic suits were taken out of plastic and dry cleaned, the hairstyles were lego'd and the Hawaiian shirt returned poolside. The new policy suddenly meant squat, and we all started looking the same again.

At the end of the day, the way we dress is heavily influenced by those around us and we learn through osmosis rather than from policies and codes. This is why people organically start to dress the same in organisations. If it feels right - I say go for it. It's when it doesn't feel right that you need to take stock because a watered-down version of your authentic self is a skewed representation of who you really are.

So before you get your inner leg measurement done and dye your hair to an acceptable shade of yawn, stop and think about who you are doing it for, and why. Because if you are dressing in a way that simply doesn't feel right, you may find that what really doesn't fit are the people around you and the culture you are desperately trying to fit into.

 

GO BACK