What would you think if a coworker or employee showed up to work in loose ripped jeans, scuzzy sneakers, the same shirt she wore yesterday, frizzy hair, dirty unpolished nails, and a band-aid hanging off her arm from a recent tetanus shot? Would you judge me? Should I buy new clothes? Probably?
In an article for the New York Times, fashion director and chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman explored the uniquely non-corrective and, relatedly, somewhat confusing moment we are inhabiting when it comes to dressing for work. Friedman quotes Susan Scafidi, founder of the Fashion Law Institute, who notes that as our work lives and lives-lives become increasingly intertwined, there’s naturally far less interest in a wardrobe that arbitrarily separates the two:
“There’s a strain of thought that says an employee represents a company, and thus dress is not about personal expression, but company expression,” Professor Scafidi said. “But there’s a counter argument that believes because we identify so much with our careers, we should be able to be ourselves at work.”
Friedman also cites recent uproars over various sharply gendered dress codes—the heel requirement at British temp agency Portico, and, allegedly, at Cannes; the weather forecaster who was recently handed a sweater to cover her dress (she later said it was a joke); Kansas State Senator Mitch Holmes’ public apology for releasing guidelines that deemed low necklines and miniskirts “inappropriate” but had no equivalent restrictions for male dress—as well as new guidelines from the New York City Commission on Human Rights prohibiting enforcing dress codes “based on sex or gender,” to make the argument that as the lines of gender increasingly blur, the concept of what clothes are “appropriate” does as well.
I started an editorial assistant job at Glamour Magazine in fussy outfits and statement necklaces and high heels that sprained my ankle twice; two years later, my Birkenstocks and jeans heavily signaled a swiftly loosening commitment to the world of women’s magazines, and to the idea that a woman should stand on her tippy toes to be taken seriously. When I came to TwinStar Media, everyone was dressed like this, and I essentially stopped buying clothes.
It should probably be noted that there are a lot of parts of the country and world where this individualistic, dressed-down, post-gender vibe is nowhere near a thing yet, and many professions, as well; not everyone works at a start-up or an extremely casual media organization. But it does beg considering—what do you consider appropriate workwear? Has that idea shifted dramatically depending on your job, or even as you become more comfortable in (or less serious about) one particular job?