👔Has Covid Completely Wiped Out Formal Workwear As We Know It?

Pre-covid, workers would trek to work each day suited and booted. Come rain or shine. And the shine was the worst! During my summer internships, I would wear a pencil skirt and shirt (in the heat) and taking the train during rush hour, packed like sardines, did not help anything! Sweaty elbows jammed in our faces while we schvitzed in the 30C heat. Not fun. But boy did I feel bad for the women who wore heels. How they do it, I have no idea! And it wasn’t just one or two months like I did. These folks dressed like that day in day out. Maybe most people didn’t feel quite so bad since there was no real alternative (unless you joined a tech firm that sported sneaks) and you know what they say, what you don’t know can’t hurt you. We’ve all been none the wiser for forever. But then came the pandemic. And that changed everything. 

From day to the next WFH became a thing. Workers found themselves migrating from their tall, big offices to the comfort of their own home. And with that, came a real relaxation of dress codes. The walk from our bed to our desk (in my case, less than two feet) became our new commute while Zoom meetings (or Teams, depending which team you’re on!) replaced all our in-person meetings. I went from sitting in lecture theatres filled with 200+ students to sporting those online. Zoom has become as much a part of our lives as masks and sanitiser. So much so that Zoom is now a verb of its own. You know a biz has made it when that happens!

Casual And Comfy

Why bother wearing a full-on suit when all anyone can see is your shoulders and above (unless you make the mistake of getting up from your chair during a call!). This meant that workers quickly got used to pyjama bottoms/sweatpants/shorts (you choose) and a pair of slippers/slides/sneaks. Again, your choice. One that very much depended on how much comfort you opted for. So long heels and well-polished shoes! Hello the cool ‘n comfort shoe-no-shoe. Casual soon became the norm. No matter what biz you were working for, fancy bank or tech gig. It made no difference. We were all at home wearing this new kind of work attire.

The tech guys have always been au casuale. Those Silicon Valley folk have been sporting the plain t-shirt + jeans + sneakers look for years. But it’s the rest of us who have been living in starchy suits and stiff skirts. But it comes with the territory. Banks and other financial institutions are just that. They’re institutions. They’re stooped in history and for them to dress in casual wear makes zero sense. It’s a total divergence from their entire ethos and decades-long way of doing things. Oh, and not to mention the fact that their clients would (mostly) think what am I paying all these fees for if they can’t even dress the part?! And there is a point to be made about dressing well and performing well. Looking the part helps you feel the part. You feel good when you’re well-groomed, wearing polished shoes all clothed in a spiffing outfit. It gives you some sort of energy to go and conquer the corporate world.

Yay Or Nay?

Though with the rise of all these cool and wonderful fintechs that aim to disrupt the way things have always been done, they’re championing a whole new meaning to finance and the dress code that goes along with it. These guys are focused on how they’re doing the things they do (whether it’s democratising investing, borderless payments and way more), that they want to uproot the ‘old’ way of doing things. They’re moving away from all that. And it’s no surprise then that they don’t want to dress like the ‘old’ guys. Clothes speak a thousand words. 

Photo by Matt Fernandes on Pexels.com

I recently came across a really interesting piece how wearing super-formal clothes can sometimes compensate for competence. Do we think we can get away with a lot more when we’re dressed so spiffingly? The Jury’s out on that one but something that tells me if you show up in jeans and sneaks, you’re certainly bringing your brain with you, if nothing else! 

I also think about the cost savings of not having to dress up every day for work! This means fewer shirts to buy (and to iron which is possibly my least favourite thing to do) fewer dresses/skirts/shoes/handbags. It also means you can probably get away with wearing the same thing twice in a row (before this, it would‘ve been a real faux pas) and also get to express some of your personality. Clothes (the non-corporate kind) are a way of adding some personality and colour to our persona. Clothes are a really interesting way of giving people a glimpse of who you are and what you’re all about. Think about how you dress and what that says to others. It’s a show-not-tell kinda thing. Think about your personality and how your clothes reflect that!

But wearing plain dresses and shoes (the unspoken dress code of traditional corps) don’t really give much way for that kind of expression. In these sort of circumstances, make sure that your words speak for themselves! Your personality will show in what you talk about and how you talk about. Perhaps speech becomes a lot more important in these settings.

If I’m totally honest with you, after living in sweats and plain t-shirts ever since March 2020 makes me want to dress up a bit. There’s nothing wrong with dressing up for work just as there’s nothing wrong with dressing down. There’s two sides to everything. And it pretty much depends on what biz you’re working for and its kinda culture. Maybe workwear attire will factor into workers’ decisions when choosing where to work? Who knows! Anyway, come September I’ll be joining the workforce (AHHH) and I’ll be joining team formal workwear. And to be honest, I couldn’t be happier. I’m getting tired of my Zoom attire and I’m excited to get dressed. Tops and bottoms!

A Thing Of The Past?

I recently went along to a private investor conference organised by one of the companies whose funds I own. It was the first in-person event since covid and I made every effort to go along. And, of course, I was looking for a spark of inspiration given these pretty awful times we’re living through. I didn’t regret it one bit as there was a host of awesome speakers and I finally got to meet the people who manage my money. And that of many others! In the invitation, it clearly stated ‘attire: formal wear’. I thought, yippee, this gives me a chance to wear my nice flats (I was never a heels person) that I haven’t worn in an embarrassingly long time along with a (what I thought to be ‘formal’) black dress and cardi. 

Yet everyone but me seemed to have got the memo about the dress code! I felt really overdressed. Most of the attendees were in relaxed smart casual attire. There were definitely some suits but not many and if they were wearing one, they were definitely sporting the good old crew neck! I can’t say that I spotted a single pair of black polished shoes or even a glimpse of a tie. No way Jose. I do think that things are changing and maybe formal wear doesn’t quite have the same meaning as it used to. 

Oh, and if you’re looking for a real sign of the times, the ONS who calculates inflation using a basket of (weighted) goods have removed formal menswear from the (virtual shopping) basket and replaced it with jacket/blazer.

So long, three-piece suits. It’s been real. 

Disclaimer: This blog is not investment or financial advice. It is my opinion only. This blog is not a personal recommendation to buy/sell any security, or to adopt any such investment strategy. Always do your own research before you commit to any investment