Is the Era of Strict Office Dress Codes Coming to a Close?
Style du Monde
When JPMorgan Chase announced in early June that it would be adopting a companywide business-casual dress code, it struck many of us working in creative and/or tech industries as a fairly delayed move. After all, companies in both those spheres have been allowing a more casual approach to office wear for years, often so much so that any designation between clothes for work and play is unnecessary. But the change also served as a reminder that certain industries, particularly finance and government, still operate along very traditional lines. Given that, did JPMorgan’s announcement symbolize the final nail in the coffin of the office dress code, even in sectors where it seemed part and parcel?
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“Investment banking still carries a lot more traditional sartorial (and other) values,” explained one former JPMorgan employee, Ed, aged 30, who now works at a finance-heavy startup within a large, multinational company. “As part of analyst training, there were clear guidelines on what was appropriate office apparel, and the culture of banking fed into maintaining a quality wardrobe.” Indeed, even with the recent changes, beloved items like jeans and sneakers are still considered off-limits. As for his current dress code, Ed described it as “#basic for business,” citing preppy-casual separates chinos, nice jeans, and button-downs as the norm for guys. Two women I spoke to working for smaller finance companies also mentioned being able to wear jeans, policies adopted purely as a selling point to employees.
And that seems to be the key, with JPMorgan’s move part of a larger shift in finance culture to attract millennials who are increasingly drawn to the more flexible work environments of startups. PricewaterhouseCoopers, the largest professional services firm in the world and one of the Big Four auditors, recently made a huge push toward creating that environment, part of which involved loosening up the dress code. According to one current employee, the biggest coup is that they can now wear jeans to work. “Signs like this are important in showing our people that we’re open to new ways of working,” writes the company in an overview of their policy changes.
However, it’s not just the world of finance that has some catching up to do. As Anna, 26, told me of the skincare company she works at: “[We] just went from ‘business’ to ‘business casual’ and everyone is confused.” After all, such vague terms mean different things to different people, and at her company in particular, employees are still wearing suits Monday to Thursday, essentially following a “casual Friday” policy rather than uprooting the entire dress code.
In fact, many women and men working under the umbrella of beauty and fashion cited a continued need to dress up for work due to the aesthetic focus of their jobs. But according to Samantha, age 43, guidelines in these realms used to be much stricter: “My first job was in PR at Prada, and we had a uniform. It changed seasonally and included shoes.” As someone working in the fashion industry today, I find that almost impossible to imagine, and as one current Prada employee confirmed, it’s no longer the case. “There’s definitely no uniform,” she explained, “but I still feel required to wear something fancier than jeans and sneakers, even if that means wearing them instead with a blazer and heels.” That being said, she told me that most days found her wearing dresses and skirts, in the vein of her boss.
So, is the era of the office dress code truly coming to a close? Well, not exactly, though it seems to be inching toward an end with a little more speed. Many industries—even those you would least expect, like fashion—still seem rife with companies holding onto more traditional guidelines, though the prevalence of startups (and their usually more laid-back work culture) in virtually every sphere today is giving those old standards a run for their money. It seems highly likely that the office dress code will eventually die out, but as for when that will truly happen? Well, it looks like we have a ways to go.