Corporate wear edged out as workers suit themselves in the office

Is your business suit gathering dust in the wardrobe?

Dress codes across Australian organisations have relaxed in the past three years, and experts say it is bringing unexpected benefits.

It comes as work-from-home attire has crept into workplaces and seen more people dress down. Think fewer ties and heels, and more open-neck shirts and flat footwear.

“I can’t remember the last time I saw a tie in the workforce, whereas it used to be quite normal,” said Jo Jakobs, New South Wales director of recruitment firm Randstad.

“We’ve definitely seen a shift in attire that people wear when they’re at work. What we really have noticed is a distinct trend to more corporate casual or just straight casual wear into the office and when people are working from home.”

Jo Jakobs, Randstad.

Casual Fridays-wear is now becoming the standard dress code for the entire week with more people wearing jeans, activewear and T-shirts to work.

Younger generations are driving much of the move away from formal business wear, Ms Jakobs said.

“We’re seeing people of a new generation, so maybe they’ve come into the workforce during COVID, and many of them have never known a corporate work office environment,” she said.

But the benefits aren’t just in comfort. Less-formal workwear is a step towards more inclusivity at work.

“If you think about people who may have disabilities or physical restraints, to some degree this new landscape really works for them because they don’t dress differently, they’re just dressed like everyone else,” she said.

The ‘dress to express’ rather than ‘dress to impress’ shift may also affect employee engagement.

Organisational psychologist Amantha Imber said workers are far more likely to feel happier and more motivated if they have more say over what they wear.

“I think there’s a new wave of leaders that see the benefits of embracing the flexibility in all sorts of ways from how we work, to what we wear to work, and that actually has a big impact on employment engagement,” she said.

“What it does do is it gives them more choice, more autonomy and we know psychologically people feel more motivated when they have more control over their working environment and part of your working environment is choosing what you wear every day.”

Psychologist Dr Amantha Imber.

An online poll by recruitment firm People2People found 57 per cent of Australian workers opt for a more casual working wardrobe closer to their out-of-work outfits.

Six in 10 say they wear jeans or shorts on a regular basis and almost half wear sneakers rather than heels.

However, leaders may still have to enforce some dress codes at work, and this could become tricky.

Dr Imber recommends handling this with sensitivity and keeping factors such as cultural considerations and the customer’s perspective in mind.

“I can envisage situations where people can feel uncomfortable with certain types of attire, so I think that is a fine line to walk when you’re thinking about what is an appropriate dress code for the office,” Dr Imber said.

“I always think it’s good to put yourself in your customer’s shoes so if you are in a customer-facing role, think about what’s the impact on the customer with the different choices you have in terms of what you wear.

“You definitely don’t want to make a choice that is going to make a customer feel uncomfortable, or that might dramatically alter their first impression of you and the company if you’re presenting in a negative way.”

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