Work Dress Codes Continue to Evolve—or Devolve


It started decades ago with casual Fridays. Off came the ties and suits, on came the chinos and polos. Slowly, formal dress codes eased, but since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the metamorphosis has been dramatic. Remote workers don loungewear bottoms unseen during Zoom meetings. Even employees who are back in the office are eroding the once stringent rules about how to dress for success, leaving the workplace a maelstrom of undefined rules about what to wear to work.

Certainly, some industries have remained constant—lawyers still don’t wear aloha shirts in court—but even bankers have eased up on their once-standard conservative wardrobe requirements. Young employees anxious to dissolve the status quo are leading the way in this remaking of the American workplace wardrobe. The New York Times recently published an article about a 21-year-old woman considering herself a “career adult” who refuses to give up crop tops at the office. Her rationale is that she doesn’t think she should have to have buy a separate work wardrobe or wear clothing that does not mesh with her personal style.

Such flagrant disregard for a workplace dress code once would have resulted in accusations of lacking professionalism. But employers fear to lose employees in today’s tight job market and are bending to the trend of dressing down. Still, a casual attitude toward office norms can have negative repercussions, especially for ambitious workers who want to climb the success ladder.

As an example, an Austin man who received a major promotion wondered about how (or if) he should alter his wardrobe. Those advising him suggested he consider several factors.

  • Remember that clothes communicate values, and dressing up has long been a way for individuals to demonstrate achievement and taste.
  • Consider that although the casual workplace and changing attitudes have minimized how much value is put on work wardrobes, they have not abolished such judgments entirely. People still “read” outfits. Rumpled, ill-fitting, stained, or fraying clothes will not help subordinates respect a new boss or young employees impress their managers.
  • Opt for a wardrobe made of quality items over quantity and have a consistent look appropriate to the job description. For example, workers in creative fields need to show they are creative, including in their choice of clothing. People working in the environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) arena ought to be certain their wardrobe comes from sustainable manufacturing and supply chains if they wish to be credible.

The bottom line is that workers need to pay attention and be mindful of what they wear to work.


  1. Do you think managers should dress more formally than their subordinates? Why?
  2. What should you consider when deciding on what to wear for an office job?
  3. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was famous for his signature look, a designer black turtleneck and blue jeans. How and why did this combination fit his position as the leader of Apple?
  4. Do you agree that employees should be able to show personal style fashion choices in the workplace?

Source: Friedman, V. (2022, September 19.) I just got a big promotion. Do I need a fancier wardrobe too? The New York Times.






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