Once upon a time, office attire and work wear was super-formal. Images of Mad Men agency-style suits, dresses and heels might come to mind, or the power suits of the 80s and 90s, and, more recently, shows such as The Apprentice, where everyone is suited, booted and heeled up, even when running down the street or in fancy dress trying to sell a product.
September marks Second Hand September, an initiative by Oxfam to encourage everyone to buy pre-loved. Now, if that’s an unusual phrase to you, you might just think of ‘second hand’ or even ‘charity shop’. But pre-loved is a growing industry, and charity shops no longer have the stuffy ‘jumble sale’ vibes they might have had.
With the rise of apps such as Vinted, as well as influencers showcasing how to style second-hand and pre-loved clothes, it begs the question of whether a dress code is an outdated idea in business.
Dress codes as part of company culture
The history of dress codes in the workplace in the United Kingdom has evolved over time, reflecting changes in societal norms, fashion trends, and corporate culture. In the early 20th century, dress codes in the workplace were quite formal and conservative. Men typically wore suits, ties, and hats, while women wore dresses or skirts and blouses. After World War II, there was a relaxation of dress codes in many workplaces as society became more casual.
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This was influenced by the rise of American fashion and popular culture. Moving into the 60s and 70s, the youth counterculture and the feminist movement influenced more relaxed clothing choices, including jeans and t-shirts, until, in the 80s, we saw a return to more formal dress codes in many workplaces, especially in corporate settings. Power suits with shoulder pads became fashionable for both men and women.