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    THOUGHTS on GOLDMAN SACHS'S ANNOUNCEMENT that EVERY DAY is a 'DRESS DOWN FRIDAY'

    Goldman Sachs, a leader in global investment banking, have announced a shift in what is deemed acceptable office attire. Their statement enforces that staff must still “dress in a manner that is consistent with your clients' expectations”, but in a way that moves away from the traditional bland, collared shirts and tailored trousers. If this really is the case, then one must contemplate not just the effect this has on the individual image and productivity of employees, but also on the company itself. If your dress code previously required employees to don a smart, almost-uniform to work, then the message sent out about your brand or business is that you command authority and take yourself – and, if applicable, your clients – seriously. By altering the dress code, are you in fact altering the attitudes of employees and clients in a way that boosts work productivity and the company image, or are you putting a stopper to your success?

     IS DRESSING DOWN REALLY a STEP CLOSER to BETTER COMPANY SUCCESS? 

    Depending on your personal background and experience, the idea of ‘dressing down’ could conjure up a variety of images, from the sublime to the extreme. To some, the phrase may mean a brighter, less sober colour palette with a more or less similarly formal style or a smart pair of jeans and a silk blouse;  to others, this idea of ‘dressing down’ could mean throwing on some comfortable, slouchy clothes that wouldn’t be out of place in the pyjama department – how could this possibly be conducive to a working environment, you ask? Context, it seems, is key.

    According to studies, around 62% of all companies now include a ‘dress-down’ Friday or equivalent, with 36% employing a casual dress code for the entire working week – a huge increase from the 2014 data, which illustrated just 19% of companies allowed employees to dress down for the duration of the week. This upward trend in data suggests that no, companies haven’t been negatively impacted by the dress code changes and that yes, you can still maintain a high-level of productivity when in more comfortable clothes – a fact that’s supported by the general shift towards remote working.

    While this fact may seem obvious – the more comfortable and confident you feel, the more likely you are to perform well at your job – as consumers and as professionals, we have been fed many years’ worth of, “Oh, but you look so much smarter and professional in a suit and tie”, thus this rhetoric appears to have become the rule, as opposed to an opinion-based expectation. As a result, some professions are indelibly linked to this restrictive practice, particularly ‘white-collar’ professions such as the financial and banking sectors, and could risk the distrust of clients if they encourage outward-facing employees to adopt a more relaxed attire, in spite of the lack of impact it apparently has on productivity and attitude. Thus, for businesses that exist within this 'white collar' narrative, care must be taken that everyone is on the same page regarding what ‘dressing down’ for work actually entails.

    TO SUIT, or NOT TO SUIT? 

    Over time, office attire has become somewhat formulaic. A uniform, even. The idea behind such attire is entrenched in the basic instinct of human nature: the desire to fit in. Within various professional conglomerates – each with their own image to uphold – diverging from the norm by expressing individual style opens up the employees of said company to potential scrutiny. In short, the clothing we choose to wear within well-established businesses (and those that are on the cusp of establishing themselves) could impede the way we are seen, addressed, or handled at work, in turn affecting the overall image of the company. That’s not to say, though, that the universally accepted, professional ‘uniform’ of suit, shirt, and tie is the only way to uphold a trustworthy, professional image.

    Of course, there are roles that require a type of uniform – chefs, mechanics, scientists, medical workers, shop floor employees, to name but a few – due to health and safety concerns or the need for employees to be easily spotted amongst laymen. If this is not the case, however, then employees should be asked to identify appropriate attire that everyone can be on board with.

    Wearing a suit doesn't make you a team player, nor does it warrant diligence. It is, again, a façade that the services you provide are reinforced by the clothes on your back. Yet, as team players, we should be reminded the importance of working from the same rule book to uphold the image of a company in the same way, to the same standard. An important aspect of this is ensuring that there is freedom for self-expression and comfortable practicality in work attire: a selection of clothing set aside for work, adapted for both personal style and with profession in mind. Although an overused description, it is true that fashion extends beyond image – through the personal choices you make, it becomes a visual representation of personal taste, culture, society, time, and practicality.

    THE DIY APPROACH 

    It could be argued, then, that self-adoring narcissism lies at the heart of fashion; indeed, the way we present ourselves reflects how we wish to be seen. We manipulate our audience into thinking, or inferring, things about us based on what we choose to emphasise and promote. The question, though, is does this approach benefit or hinder a business? From the evidence currently available, it would appear that it is actually a benefit: 61% of employees are more productive when allowed a more relaxed approach to work styling.

    The sentiments of those courageous, determined women who fought to relinquish the restrictions imposed on them by corsets and high-collared blouses are now echoed in the voices of professional women today, who are fighting against the perception that heels and tailored suits are mandatory to perform their jobs effectively. Slowly but surely, a range of companies are beginning to see the bigger picture in this respect – particularly airlines such as Virgin, and other sectors that impose harsher terms on their female staff compared to their male counterparts – and have toned down their expectations regarding make-up and heels.

    Choosing the right practical elements to suit the job is principal, but clothing that indulges your self-confidence should also be considered. Naturally, it would be difficult for an investment banker to be considered trustworthy with another’s money if they are sporting a ‘Sex Pistols’ band t-shirt and ripped jeans or a baggy jumper with jogging bottoms, but that doesn’t mean that wearing the same 3 suits all year round is our only option in the professional world – we have the ability to create our own narrative of ourselves. Successful, strong, professional, hardworking, and respected businesswomen who have upended the boundaries of professional attire for females and dispensed of the suit, have included Diane von Fürstenberg and Oprah Winfrey.

     

    Just in case we haven’t yet made the benefits of relaxed dress codes clear yet: Mark Zuckerberg managed to successfully co-found and run a vast internet empire, whilst largely sporting jeans and a t-shirt. If he can do it, why can’t the same principle be applied to the rest of us?

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