IN AN INTERNAL memo to staff in 2016 JPMorgan Chase relaxed its dress code. The 240,000 employees of the US bank could hang up their suits and put on casual attire – once reserved for casual Fridays – all work week. Some clothes remained beyond the pale (T-shirts, flip flops, tank tops, yoga pants). But many – polo shirts, skirts (of appropriate length), dress sandals – have become a fair game.
JPMorgan was, from a sartorial standpoint, ahead of its time among the stuffy corporate giants (turtlenecks and hoodies have long been the fashion choice of the Silicon Valley titans). Others have followed suit, so to speak. The men’s corporate uniform – and the feminine suit designed to reflect it – is increasingly seen as a holdover from the male-dominated offices of yesteryear and no longer fit for purpose in a growing world. great equality (although still imperfect) in the workplace. As more and more people ran or cycled to work, they found that it was impractical to change into a fullsuit, as jackets folded into backpacks tend to lose their strength. freshness.
These days, connections are no longer a must in client meetings, even for striped investment bankers at Goldman Sachs. Providers of formal wear have had a hard time. Last year, Brooks Brothers, which had been sewing button-down shirts since 1818, filed for bankruptcy. Last month, British retailer Marks & Spencer announced it would no longer sell men’s suits in more than half of its largest stores.
As the pandemic has completely decoupled work and office presence, employees at many companies have shifted to something even less starchy. Unlike JPMorgan, however, most have no guidelines in place on what’s appropriate and what isn’t. Although the Delta variant requires companies to delay a return to the office, that day will come. When workers are back at their desks, at least part of the time, new dress rules may be necessary.
Much has been written about what people wore on Zoom calls during closings (and what they weren’t wearing: some retailers report that the pants have sold considerably more in the past year and a half). Fashion designers like Giles Deacon in Britain have launched “work from anywhere” fashion collections, targeting slightly looser clothes that still look smart. Two Japanese companies, Aoki and Something Inc, have created pajama suits – a hybrid of a suit and soft, comfortable loungewear – perfect for the video conference you attend from home. Aoki uses the same fabric as the pajamas but with a cut similar to a costume. Whatever the Inc FMH Jammies are “business upstairs, loungewear downstairs.”
That’s not to say relaxed Fridays have given way to weeks of athleisure work. Indeed, some workplaces are already suffering a backlash against informality. In 2017, the British House of Commons ruled that men deputys no longer had to wear a tie to attend debates; previously they could only go without a tie on hot summer days. But in early September this year Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the President, announced that he expected all parliamentarians to wake up. Jeans, chinos and sleeveless tops are out.
Taken together, people’s clothes speak for more than just personal preferences. People’s clothing choices add up to a zeitgeist. It is no coincidence that the cheerful pomp of the 1920s came right after the discouragement of World War I and the Spanish flu. Couture brands today are hoping that when the pandemic finally recedes, male and female professionals will feel a renewed desire to dress.
Bartleby too. Like Sir Lindsay, she would recommend that employees maintain some degree of formal presentation. Yes, some people can have a disheveled look, but not everyone. Dressing in taste and elegance does not necessarily imply designer clothes or expensive watches. It is a sign of commitment and seriousness. A freshly laundered, crisp shirt tells the world that you’ve made an effort; a tracksuit does not.
And while going to the office is a ritual, styling an outfit can be fun, not a chore. The way you dress is part of her personal expression. It also separates the public and the private. Taking off formal office clothes and slipping into something comfortable marks a daily transition from work to non-work. This line was blurry during blockages and could be fine-tuned. A man in a suit and tie is a man who loosens his tie at the end of the day.
For a more in-depth analysis of the biggest stories in economics, business and markets, sign up for Money Talks, our weekly newsletter. All of our pandemic and vaccine related stories can be found on our coronavirus hub. You can also find trackers showing the global vaccine rollout, excess deaths by country, and the spread of the virus across Europe.
This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “Suits v sweatpants”