The Significance of Fashion in the Workforce

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Fashion is a way of expressing oneself to the world. We make certain choices every day based on how we want to be perceived. The clothes we wear in the workplace are equally, if not more, important than our leisure fashion choices. Dress codes are enforced in many fields for safety, but they can also be enforced to maintain a certain image and level of professionalism among all employees. Thus, the implications of personal fashion can take on different connotations.

Throughout the course of history, fashion and adornment have been used to portray power and prestige. Contemporary fashion also adheres to this trend, as those who can command a room automatically have the most power.

Today, acceptable fashion choices are much more varied than in the mid and late twentieth century. For instance, in the 1950s, hats for men donning formal and professional wear were an essential. Today, however, other than protective gear, you would be hard-pressed to find a male employee wearing a hat in the United States.

Another pivotal shift came in the 1970s with the rise of the long hair and beard trend. Prior to this fad, a clean shave and a short haircut was considered the most polished and professional look for work and for everyday life. However, the shift in social norms during this decade in the United States helped pave the way for a more natural and relaxed look.

Moreover, there has always been an underlying desire for many women in the workforce to find the delicate balance between dressing feminine and fitting in within a masculine-dominated workspace. In the 1980s, the exaggerated shoulder pad trend was overwhelmingly popular for women. This type of masculine-inspired fashion arguably helped to solidify women’s authoritative and dominant position in the modern workforce.

In response to the rise of Silicon Valley in the 1990s, many companies adopted a more relaxed, business casual appearance when it came to fashion. The cutting-edge innovation and new-found influence of Silicon Valley proved to be the perfect catalysts for a casual workwear revolution. The early 2000s saw an increasing disparity between what was deemed “appropriate” workwear among different professions. It is still common today for corporate environments to require more formal clothes. In fact, studies have shown that individuals who dress more formally are more likely to be perceived as intelligent and powerful in the workplace.  Meanwhile, creative and tech industries typically adhere to a more informal style, where individuality is prized. In more creative fields, such as the fashion industry, the way one dresses can often be viewed as a representation of the products of their labor. Thus, a plethora of personal styles and tastes are showcased, and are often valued as an art form itself.

While the implications and parameters of fashion in the working world have changed and evolved greatly over the last several decades, the importance of presenting oneself as capable and confident remains crucial. The clothing one chooses continues to play a key role in expression and perception, and the emphasis on fashion in the professional world shows no sign of waning.