Take Out Your Plaid Shirt on a Weekday: Here’s Why It’s Okay to Dress Casually for Work

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We might not be able to understand fashion fully. The word itself has a wide definition that makes it harder to pinpoint. Fashion means the prevailing style during a particular time.

Magazine editors try to explain it through words like “casual dapper” or themes like “Alice in Wonderland.” But what do these mean exactly? Most people don’t bother and leave it to the stylish people to decide. After all, what they say goes.

Well, most of the time, that’s what happens. Sometimes, the public gets to tell designers what’s hip and what’s not. Since the 2010s, it’s all about comfort over style. And this trend has made its way into corporate fashion as well.

Blue-Collar vs. White-Collar Attire

Blue-collar employees have always dressed for comfort. Manual labor often involves heavy machinery and long hours of backbreaking work. Warehouse loaders need to be in loose clothes while operating electric pallet stackers. A work suit or coverall is required for certain jobs before entering the factory, so it doesn’t really matter what you wear inside. Job applicants can come in interviews wearing plaid shirts over graphic tees.

Once upon a time, you wouldn’t catch a white-collar job applicant in the same outfit, but times are changing. Today, it’s normal to see plaid-clad youngbloods waiting at the HR lobby. White-collar attire was strictly a world of clean-cut suits and dresses in the 90s. The spectrum has broadened to incorporate business casual, smart casual, and other variations.

The “Construction Worker” Style

A decade ago, millennials started sporting ripped jeans and made them look hip. Men always had some hoodies, even when it’s not winter. Women loved wearing their boyfriends’ oversized shirts with tear holes.

GQ dubbed this trend as the “Construction Worker” style. It’s all about “Carhartt jackets, Dickies pants, Champion hoodies, beat-up dad hats, relaxed-fit jeans, and work boots.” While it’s somewhat inspired by the look of a “rugged warehouse worker,” pulling it off is always cheap. Fashion aficionados can recreate the style in two ways: either using real workwear clothes and styling them or buying from high-end, fashion-forward brands that have embraced the look.

Workwear Replacing Suits and Ties

employee in casual wear

When it started, the construction worker style was only seen in teens and young adults crossing the streets or running an errand at the mart. Gradually, it made its way into the professional workspace. The new hire will most likely be donning some sweatpants, much to the dismay of an older resident, who has five stocks of the same suit in his wardrobe.

What Do Employers Think?

That’s the question asked by OfficeTeam of recruiting firm Robert Half International, Inc. In a survey involving senior managers, half of the respondents thought new employees wear less formal clothing than they did five years ago. 47% thought the workers’ attire is “too casual,” while 32% added that employees show “too much skin.”

Nonetheless, not all employers share the same disdain. JPMorgan Chase, an industry giant in investment and financial services, officially relaxed its dress code via an internal memo. The admin understands that “[m]ore clients are dressing informally, and many parts of [their] company are already business casual.”

But of course, being a Wall Street brand, JPMorgan provided a limit on how casual the employees’ attire could get. Weekend casual is still not allowed: flip flops, leggings, and athletic shoes.

For the most part, corporations are willing to adapt to be more appealing to the new workforce. In a report, Randstad stated that 33% of millennials would rather quit or accept another job offer if it meant following a strict dress code every day. Most employers are willing to compromise as long as the employee does his job with flair. 55% of superiors said what they care about is performance and not office attire.

Is it a Reflection of the Young Adult’s Attitude Towards Work?

Millennials are always misunderstood, so this thought may come to mind. But studies do not necessarily agree. Some experts may even think it could foster productivity.

According to Mike Slepian, professor at Columbia Business School and author of “The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing,” clothing affects our cognition towards tasks.

How You Could Wear Different Clothes for Different Tasks

Slepian notes that casual clothes encourage abstract thinking more concretely, useful for tasks requiring attention to details, like web coding. On the other hand, formal clothes make you feel powerful, “because they’re not the type of clothes you’d wear with friends.” He adds that this makes you feel distant, allowing you to think on a superior level.

Dressing for Yourself and Others

Fashion is a form of self-expression, but ultimately, it should depend on what you’re dressing up for. As you style up your workwear shirts, make sure to keep a level of respect for the workplace.

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