Friday, June 08, 2007

What you wear. How you work.

In my office the suit is dead! I tell those who walk through the door that we are all professionals but our professionalism does not always manifest itself in high-powered suits. Perhaps it is because our field is creative that allows me to get away with pink circle skirts and a black tucked in T-shirt.

But research just published confirms my thoughts about dressing down at work. Globally, 23% of firms have a dress down policy for at least one day of the week compared with 5% in 1997. This seems to be far cry from the uniformed conformity of 1980's power dressing or the “let’s totter on our high-heels look” in the early 1990s.

Some call the new Friday style the 'Third Wardrobe'. In London, Arthur Andersen told its 7,000 UK employees that they no longer had to wear a suit. Like many other big firms in that city, they had been operating "dress down Fridays" for some time and decided this year to give their staff the option to dress down permanently. No to be outdone, other big global firms such as Credit Suisse First Boston, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley have since followed this lead. Notice that they are all in the traditionally conservative financial world.

But why dress down, especially when the right label on a suit can indicate one’s status in a firm? My guess is that in many firms, when employees come dressed in the way that matches their sense of who they are, they feel more expressive. For instance, I get the best work from my graphic designer when he wears relaxed clothing; my assistant is also happier. And I’ve found that employees work longer hours when they feel relaxed, “When I am allowed to wear smart designer jeans and ballet shoes. I'm more comfortable," said one associate. But I like this comment best from Colin McLatchie Chief Operating Officer of an equitable asset management firm who said, "if you cannot trust your employees to dress themselves what can you trust them to do?"

Of course, it is unlikely that the business suit will become entirely extinct any time soon. It has its own special place in civilization. It is a signifier that business is taking place and that life is essentially compartmentalised into commercial and private spaces.

But what a surprise it was for me when from the minute I announced a dress down policy and saw one of my assistants, who is extremely conservative and very much I thought like a drone, show up to work in smart orange skirt and red blouse with a orange mid-heeled shoe. Thereafter, I thought that there is value in this thing called self expression, this is after I cursed myself for ever having called her a drone.

1 comment:

Raycy said...

I fully agree with expression self through clothing. I can honestly say that i feel more comfortable when i'm allowed to reflect who i am and how i feel on a particular day through clothing (within boundaries of course). It refeclts to me that my employer sees me as an individual rather than just a piece that only exist as part of the whole and nothing else.