I came to my current job wearing slacks, a soild-coloured button-up tucked in, and brown oxfords for my first three days here. The shirts were the first to go; I replaced them with the welcome comfort of a t-shirt. My slacks soon became jeans. My polished leather brown shoes were the last to go, but after one day when I was too lazy to put on socks and I wore loafers instead, I haven’t even thought of switching back.
To a large extent, the idea of the workplace uniform has collapsed. Yes, at banks and hedge-funds and law firms you will still observe a sea of suits and ties, but people still make fashion statements that were unimaginable at these places even fifteen or twenty years ago. Beards are admired, not scorned as a symptom of unkemptness. Colourful socks, funky ties, and even experimental cufflinks are now commonplace in the corporate world.
Perhaps the phenomenon is a symptom of the decline of the idea of the workplace in general. More and more people participate in the gig economy, even those with regular jobs, and people now don’t know where the day will necessarily take them when they get to work. Dressing down, or just in a more personal style, enforces an on-the-go aesthetic which many young urbanites have come to embody.
From a management perspective, the rise of the start-up has probably bred much of the acceptance of the shift. Steve Jobs changed the world wearing an ugly turtleneck, and it has become clear that when everyone is productive, being creative sets you apart. So, in an effort to keep employees happy and give them a feeling of comfort and expression while they are at work, bosses have let the trend slide as long as it breeds good work. And honestly, that’s all that should matter; if you’re doing good work it shouldn’t make a difference what you wear (as long as you’re wearing something.)