There is an age-old debate between people who love to dress up professionally for work, and those who would prefer it if they could simply get it all done from the comfort of their sweatpants. Now that the pandemic has made a lot of employees switch to remote work, it would seem like the whole discussion has been rendered entirely pointless. After all, if no one can see me, no one will care what I’m wearing as I answer emails and write reports.
But the thing is, the heart of this debate was never about personal preference. No, the gist of the matter is this: do we need formal wear to carry out our jobs right? For me, the answer is a resounding no. Allow me to explain why.
My competence doesn’t change based on what I wear
I am what I am, and I know what I know. No clothes will change the fact that I’m a cold, hard professional, and I can do my job just as well in a suit as I can in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.
However, this doesn’t mean that I believe that clothes don’t have any influence on our psyche at all. Quite the contrary, a nice outfit will make anyone feel happier and more confident, and something like that can give a big boost to our professional performance. This brings me to my next point.
There is a balance to be found
We don’t have to choose between two extremes, where we’re either allowed to wear a perfectly pressed, uncomfortable suit or we stick to wearing a shabby pair of sweatpants. To illustrate this point, let’s take a page from Aussie women’s books. With the weather so hot during a large part of the year, women’s workwear in Australia manages to strike the perfect balance between professional, pleasant to wear, and just plain pretty to look at. They wear light, breezy blouses, cozy cropped pants, fitted pleat dresses made of breathable materials, and a bunch of other beautiful combinations. A tight skirt suit and stilettos aren’t the only option out there.
These women have mastered the art of business casual while managing to retain that air of cozy elegance, and there’s really no reason the rest of us can’t do something similar.
Comfort can make your job more pleasant
I worked a couple of jobs where I was required to come in very formal outfits every single day, and let me tell you – that took up so much of my time. It takes effort (not to mention money) to have a freshly-ironed shirt, skirt, and blazer for every single day of the week, and the stress of having to look perfect takes its toll after a while.
While every company can make any kind of dress code they like, it might be a good idea to consider that coming in to work without worrying about your outfit can make for a more pleasant atmosphere.
Dress codes can sometimes mask a weird culture
Do you really see a single good reason any kind of company would require its female workers to wear heels every day? Because there isn’t one.
While dress codes are often perfectly sensible and normal, sometimes they’re a mask for rampant workplace sexism. For example, there’s apparently a Fortune 500 company that banned its female employees from ever wearing pants and another one that required its employees to only wearing plain white undergarments.
If your company doesn’t have the same rules for both male and female employees, then it might be an uncomfortable place to work at.
There are, of course, clear exceptions
Yes, there is a good reason why a police officer will wear a uniform and why a construction worker will wear a hard cap and a vest. Not all dress codes are bad, and uniforms are an important part of certain professions.
Even if you’re not working in a uniformed profession there are still instances where a specific type of formal wear is required – for example, if you’re a lawyer who’s working with clients every day, there’s a good reason you’re wearing a suit. However, most companies are loosening dress code restrictions these days, so even law firms are becoming more casual.
You can adjust clothes to the situation
Are you going to be working from home all week and need to remain hyper-focused on what you’re doing? Then wearing yoga pants and a t-shirt makes complete sense. Will you be seeing a client or going to the office for a meeting? Then a nice, neat outfit is in order. You can always adjust what you wear according to the kind of day you’ll be having.
Constantly wearing formal outfits to work is losing its point for most professions. While certain careers require a uniform, most of us can do our jobs just fine in cozy business casual attires. As with most things, it’s important to strike a balance and adjust to the current situation.