Before starting to write this piece I tried to think about the idea for a while, but just couldn’t come to terms with it. Imposing a dress code at the workplace is a company policy that quite frankly is difficult to digest. It is a regulation that encroaches upon the personal realm, yet at the same time it enables the individual to be aesthetically and physically present in a place that is not their home.
Ok, maybe wearing a jacket and a tie is not your thing, but perhaps you are just in the wrong line of work or with the wrong company. In my case, when I had to follow a corporate dress code, it was because I had chosen the wrong job…
Anyway, I’m digressing. Let’s take a step back. Corporations began to introduce a working dress code to meet different objectives. Primarily, to distinguish company ranks and adhere to the idiom ‘clothes make the man’, but above all to strengthen the sense of business belonging and company comradeship amongst employees. They never would have expected that the desire for emancipation and an isolated Californian initiative like ‘Aloha Friday’ would have led to ‘Casual Friday’ becoming a popular business trend. Meanwhile in 1992, Levi’s published “A Guide to Casual Businesswear”, a handbook sent to 25,000 HR Directors that explained the concept of the casual business aesthetic.
Image © Levi’s®
Of course, switching from shirts and ties to button downs and chinos may seem like a step forward, but in reality it simply reflects the replacement of one uniform with another. Perhaps it’s best to accept that every job requires a uniform. If you can’t choose your ideal job, then at least understand that when you enter the workforce you will be judged by what you wear and how you wear it. It doesn’t matter how much your workplace waves its flag of liberalism when it comes to work attire. The bottom line is companies are made up of people and people make judgments.
I had to know if I was the only one puzzled by this clothing dichotomy, so I went around asking individuals who, from 9am to 18pm, had to wear diverse attire for work. For Italian rapper and hip-hop artist Nicholas Fantini a.k.a Egreen, the stage offers unlimited flexibility when it come to dress. However there was a time when Egreen had to adopt a more formal business aesthetic.
I used to work non-stop from 18 to 31 years old, covering almost any job description, which as you know, usually requires its own outfit.
My last job, the hardest “look-wise”, required flawless sophistication for formal work occasions, while a casual elegance had to be maintained for the rest of the year. Obviously after your strengthen your relationship with clients you can create a more relaxed atmosphere … but basically I wore pressed shirts and tailored trousers 365 days a year… under the sun, clocking up kilometers in central Italy, often with 2/3 shirts a day. At this point in time, separating work and my music was necessary. At the end of the day I can conclude that I always lived rather tranquilly … also it’s not like you are presented with that many alternatives anyway.
To level the playing field, we tried to contact several companies in order to ascertain their point of view on the matter, but apparently it is an uncomfortable topic for most of them. Or simply it is a theme that may generate confusion and misunderstanding, and become a subject of possible manipulation. Understandable I guess.
Instead someone decided to exploit this grey area, and turn it into a communication tool. Thank you HP.
So, do we really need a code of conduct for clothing in the workplace? Some industries and sectors are obviously more sensitive, but in general I think the answer is YES. If we are forced to use a specific digital signature, if we have to be present at a specific location within a set time frame, how come I shouldn’t know exactly how I should dress?
Are you afraid that this might limit your freedom of expression? Come on, you should fear other more sophisticated sociological mechanisms that push you to act and express yourself like millions of other people, rather than be afraid of simple business etiquette.
And this is as true for corporations that we usually see in stock images under the heading ‘Business Man Presents P&L Chart,’ as for all those corporate giants that don’t impose a dress code. In the end, it should be black and white. There should be clothing rules to follow that dictate our look at the workplace for the sake of refinement, responsibility and professionalism. After all, rules are rules.
Nicholas Fantini is best known as Egreen. He just self produced his upcoming LP, Beats & Hate, through musicraiser.com.