Decoding The New Workplace Dress Code
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.
Over the last two years, we’ve been seeing a very big shift in dress codes in the workplace across the world, and even locally here in the Middle East. This trend began in 2010, and it has been slowly evolving, with fashion choices that were once typically unheard of in industries now being deemed appropriate for where we work.
The evolution probably began with casual Fridays in the West, and found itself adopted to dress-down-Thursdays here in the UAE. Smart casual khakis and a polo shirt would have replaced the traditional suit and tie for the office, allowing the employee to feel more comfortable and relaxed as they headed into the weekend. Shortly after, we saw dress codes shifted toward even more relaxed standards with the influx of millennials whose style and demeanor were far less formal.
Source: Ascots & Chapels
The surge in popularity in the ath-leisure trend, coupled with the big designers (Gucci et al.) releasing collections inspired by 90s streetwear, alongside the evolution of social media and other such channels have allowed the younger generation to further dictate what is appropriate and what is not in the workplace. As the older generation of workers retire, and younger people with less formal styles of dressing appear, the workplace has to evolve into something everyone feels comfortable with. Indeed, in 2019, Goldman Sachs issued a company-wide memo relaxing dress codes in their offices, a move that was made with the blessing of CEO David Solomon, a long-time banker who also DJ’s under the name D-SOL.
Now, the argument can still be had that dressing formally somewhat encourages people to behave in a certain manner, and even think in a certain way. In an article published by global talent acquisition and advisory firm GQR, Dr. Abraham Rutchick, a professor of psychology, says, “When we’re dressed formally (versus casually), we think more abstractly (10,000-foot view, big ideas, distant-future-oriented, broad principles, why-thinking), in contrast to thinking concretely (necessary logistics, present and near-future oriented, narrow details, how-thinking).” It has been claimed that by simply slipping on a formal white shirt and a tie, employees feel a greater sense of authority and confidence in their work and ability.
The point here is that when you dress professional, you are seen as a professional, and will also ultimately feel more professional. While this may well be the case, I do believe that the aforementioned two very contrasting ideas can be met somewhere in the middle. In the Goldman Sachs memo, employees are told “all of us know what is and what is not appropriate for the workplace.” But do we really? I’m not so sure we all do. I have seen with my very own two eyes the ideas of what some of my colleagues (past and present, all of whom shall remain nameless in this article) have deemed appropriate attire. As such, my advice to any man in deciding workwear is a two-fold approach of building a capsule wardrobe that would work for you, as well as harnessing some common sense in the form of knowing where you work, what you do, and the clients you meet. At the same time, a man who is unsure of what is deemed appropriate in today’s evolving climate should always remember that being more formally dressed is a lesser evil than being inappropriately dressed.
Building a capsule wardrobe of eight to 12 key pieces here is important. Base your work wardrobe around neutral colors that can be paired well with good shoes and a nice briefcase or bag. You should have a minimum of two good quality, well-cut tailored suits, in a dark navy and in a suitable grey. (Greys vary with skin tones; be careful it doesn’t wash you out if you are fair skinned). Add to that five good shirts, three of which are formal and can be worn with a tie, and two button-downs in an Oxford fabric that can be paired with slim fit chinos and a fine gauge knitted sweater. An investment piece for every man (and a real work horse) is a sports jacket in a good quality wool. This piece can make you look smart and well put together, without looking stiff in a formal suit. (PSA: we at Ascots & Chapels can help you craft the perfect sports jacket!)
When choosing denim to add in to your wardrobe, stay away from any bleached, stone washes, or deliberate tears or holes. Go instead for a dark, indigo wash with a straight or slim cut- bootcuts are dated, and super skinny is too casual for you to be taken seriously at work. When it comes to shoes, three pairs need to be considered- one black, one brown, and if you wish, one pair of white trainers (for a Scandinavian take on smart casual), which can be paired with tailored trousers and a shirt. Adding your own personal style to what you wear is a great way to not just show off your personality, but also to add a touch of flair to your ensemble. You can play around with accessories such as sunglasses or a flashy pocket square to inject some style into your outfit.
For times when you want a smart, sophisticated look, and you don’t want to pull out your full suit), layering a fine gauge knitted v-neck sweater, over a poplin or Oxford button-down, paired with chinos will allow you to look snazzy while also feeling comfortable and not too restricted. Speaking of suits, unless specifically mandated from your place of employment, a tie is not always necessary for your ensemble. A tip to ensure that you look smart and well-kept without a tie is to ensure you use collar stiffeners, which will help your collars stand straight and upright. After all, there’s nothing worse than seeing a man in a suit and shirt, whose shirt collar is slipping under his jacket lapel- it’s a very untidy look, but it can be easily avoided.
In conclusion, when it comes to deciding what to wear at work, what is most important is using your best judgement based on where you are going, who you are meeting, and what sort of industry you are placed in. You may be a graphic designer based out of an uber-trendy office in Dubai Design District, but your client may be a banker based out of Dubai International Financial Centre, and as such, your usual go-to outfit of a beanie hat and a vintage Metallica tee just won’t cut it. On the flip side, embrace the fact that you can inject some style and personality into your workwear wardrobe, and look sharp without having to go full Wolf of Wall Street every day. It’s all about balance.