How Have Dress Codes Changed, and Are They Similar for Men and...

How Have Dress Codes Changed, and Are They Similar for Men and Women?

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Dress codes as a whole have relaxed since the pandemic, and much of it has to do with re-accommodating staff that may have been working from home for the past two years. As stated by University of Maryland Professor, Jie Zhang, relaxed dress codes make the transition back to the office easier and serve as an incentive for those who may have become accustomed to the comfort of telecommuting. While many industries still have strict suit-and-tie or jacket-and-skirt dress codes (such as the legal and financial sectors), others have embraced fashion choices that look smart but don’t necessarily conform to past standards.
Comfort and Style Are Not Mutually Exclusive
Comfort is the order of the day in fashion, whether you’re talking about underwear or office wear. These industries actually have more in common than you may think. For instance, trending underwear is softer and stretchier than in the past. Shapewear is effective yet far more comfortable than traditional girdles and corsets used to be, and push-up bras now have comfortable gel inlays instead of hard metal underwires. The same goes for casual business clothing items, many of which are made with materials like spandex, elastic waistbands, and relaxed styles. In creative industries (including journalism, graphic design, and fashion design), employees are styling themselves in boldly patterned tights, vividly-hued eyeglasses, and creative nail designs, feeling freer to wear outfits that lift their mood and express who they are.
Double Standards
Despite the relaxation in dress codes in many industries, statistics show that women are still expected to ‘look the part’ if they want to rise in their careers and earn a higher salary. The persistent wage gap is still very much alive in the US, and it is accentuated when race, age, industry, and other factors are considered. As pointed out by In These Times’ Mindy Isser, women also have to battle against the ‘grooming gap’. Women who purchase the right clothes and invest in hair and makeup are more likely to earn higher salaries. Men may also have grooming and fashion standards to adhere to, but these tend to be simpler. Just one example lies in the cost of haircuts for men, which is much lower than for women. Moreover, men (sans those who do invest in beauty) save thousands on skincare and makeup during their lifetime. Women also take more time to get themselves ready, with many taking almost an hour to do their hair and makeup before the workday starts.
Battling Discrimination
A recent UK study has shown that 53% of plus-size workers have felt left out of their work teams owing to their weight. The issue affects women more than men. Some 38% of women said their weight worked to destroy their confidence, compared to only 26% of men. Clearly, updated diversity and inclusion policies still need to take pervasive ‘fatphobia’ into account. People of all body sizes need to feel safer at work and feel like they are on level playing fields.
In Search of Authenticity
One trend that is making life a little easier for women is the search for authentic self-expression. Actors like Kate Winslet have argued that women should be allowed to look their age. The British actress emphasized that she did wish to use filters or excessive makeup in the series, Mare of Easttown, and many influencers and celebrities have followed her lead. Entrepreneurs like Lizzo and models like Ashley Graham have posed bare-faced on Instagram and on numerous campaigns, with both arguing for more inclusive, body-positive attitudes in fashion and daily life. The zeitgeist has undoubtedly embraced this concept, with many women feeling more comfortable about attending work in clothing that respects professional standards but while also expressing their personal sense of style.
Dress codes have been relaxed over the past two years in many industries. Of course, for some sectors, business suits, elegant tops, and tailored pants and suits are still the order of the day. Although the gender gap still exists, influencers are pushing for more inclusive environments where women can feel free to be comfortable and authentic, without losing an iota of professionalism.