After working with an American and an Australian company in the nineties, I became an entrepreneur in 2003. Free at last, I thought. Amongst other things, I also felt free from the ‘tie and suit’ regime, something which I did not feel ‘at home with’. Over the last 5-7 years, I have seen much of the ‘formality’ in work-wear disappear. As a generation of workers, who grew up seeing ‘start-up- heroes’ dressed in hoodies, take charge; dressing formally like a CEO is ‘Oh so 2005!’ Is it a co-incidence that the growth of co-working spaces like WeWork has seen a parallel rise in casual work wear? Perhaps not.
While a majority of workers still do not work from co-working spaces, but the impact of co-working habits on the broader workspace is tremendous. The co-working environments have broken down many workplace norms, from hierarchy to formality in work wear. In my practice as a workplace strategist, I come across organisations that want to mimic these environments at their corporate workplaces. Besides other advantages, it helps them attract talent, say some. WeWork and their hundred other counterparts are influencing what corporate workers wear and do.
However it is not always about dressing casually; but the ability and confidence to wear what you want; to express oneself. For millennials and Gen Z, raised on the ideals of authenticity, individuality, and the right to self-expression, personal style is like a fundamental right. Recently I caught up with much travelled American millennial Brittnee Bond for a tete-a-tete, and she was dressed in a Saree!
Others I spoke to compared dress code akin to being forced to go to a costume party. Some feels a dress code gives them an identity crisis. On the other hand, there are senior members in organisations who are trying to adapt to the new work wear. Some of them are struggling with it. The reverse is also true. In a rush to adopt the co-working style in workplaces, some organisations are ‘doing things’ to their people, in an effort to fit-in. Everyone may not fit-in well in the new look; one needs to tread carefully.