Is the office dress code dead?
Yes, says GQ, who sees the formal dress codes as a “class uniform” intended to encourage corporate groupthink, and the backlash against it as a triumph for creativity and individualism.
No, says UBS, whose employee dress code spans an incredible 44 pages, and instructs staff on everything from how to smell to when to button and unbutton their jackets.
Maybe, says mums.net, which recently engaged in full-out internet warfare over whether it was appropriate to venture tights-less into the office.
Clearly, how professionals should dress is still a hotly-debated issue. But with one-quarter of workplaces now having a casual or no dress code, and half of managers claiming dress codes are more relaxed today than they were five years ago, the Suits seem to be on the losing side.
But if more and more employees can wear jeans with impunity, where does that leave those style choices that were once considered the most erogenous of dressing transgressions?
Brightly Colored Hair
Color psychologists may claim that wearing blue in your interview increases your chances of being hired, but turning up to a workplace with turquoise hair has long been seen as a gross misstep.
That logic, however, has always been questionable. After all, dyed hair is incredibly common: 75% of women sport a barnet that is not their natural color. And pink hair is hardly more vibrant than your average natural redhead.
Attitudes do seem to be softening. Even ten years ago, only one-in-four hiring managers allowed their hiring decisions to be “strongly influenced” by non-traditional hair colors on candidates, and articles by the StarTribune and the New York Times claim that unusually colored hair has gone mainstream.
Moreover, with the take-off off of the gig economy, many more people are able to dictate their own hair color without the input of a prudish HR department.
Body art is incredibly common: 14% of Americans have tattoos, as do 20% of Brits. Moreover, the youngest generations are much more likely to have tattoos, suggesting the proportion of the inked will keep rising. Because 94% of tattooed people would hire someone with visible tattoos, this rising propensity to getting inked means body art is likely to become less and less of a problem in the workplace.
Indeed, attitudes towards tattoos in the workplace are already changing. While 63% of 60+ people think they’re inappropriate, barely 22% of 22-25-year-olds agree. The mass retirement of the Baby Boomers may end up being the death knell to prohibitions on visible tattoos at work.
An employer taking a keen interesting in their female staff’s underwear sounds like the set-up for an HR snafu. But in Germany, a company recently won a court case allowing them to force female staff to wear bras. Meanwhile, Shea Allen, an American TV reporter, was fired from her job after she confessed to having “gone braless during a live interview”.
Unfortunately, no matter how frustrating you find society’s perpetual horror at women’s natural bodies to be, being obviously braless still seems lodged in the realms of unprofessional. That doesn’t mean women who dislike bras are stuck with sucking it up, but that they still need to invest in alternative ways to contain the movement and visibility of their breasts, such as camisoles, wireless bralets, or just wearing more layers.
However, evidence suggests that a quiet braless revolution is underway amongst Millennials. Assuming their attitudes stick, by 2020 (when Millennials will make up the majority of the workforce) women who find bras uncomfortable or a health risk will be able to burn their brassieres for good.
Many of us strive to be as accommodating as possible to other people’s quirks, differences, and lifestyle choices. Yet even liberals may balk at the suggestion by a reader of the career-advice forum Ask a Manager that she be allowed to wear an eternity collar to work as a symbol of her commitment to a 24/7 dominant/submissive relationship.
While intimate discussion of sexual practices clearly does not belong in the workplace, this woman regarded the collar as a symbol of commitment to her partner, equivalent to a wedding band. Those who feel that her alternative lifestyle should be kept a secret are, however unconsciously, echoing the rhetoric once used (and sometimes still used) against LGBTQ+ relationships.
For now, though, executives who wish to wear collars would do well to follow the same logic as the braless example above: it’s fine as long as people can’t tell – either because the jewelry is hidden under clothing or the significance isn’t obvious. In the dress codes of the future, however, such alternative symbols may barely raise an eyebrow.
Beth Leslie is a career and lifestyle writer. She is also the editor of the Inspiring Interns blog, which provides graduate careers advice to young people looking to excel at their first job or internship.