Sen. John Fetterman can now wear his signature shorts and hoodie on the Senate floor without fear of violating a Senate dress code.— The Philadelphia Inquirer (@PhillyInquirer) September 18, 2023
A new rule — or lack of a rule — takes effect this week. https://t.co/aKuGNOJkm3
But after a wave of publicity, the Senate on Wednesday passed a bipartisan resolution that reinstated the business attire dress code on the floor.
Regardless, traditional dress in the workplace has seemingly gone by the wayside in recent years. In April, the job search engine Adzuna published research that found “casual attire at work is on the rise while business wear is declining.”
“In 2019,” the report revealed, “58% of employers wanted employees to feel free to dress casually at work, while 41% adhered to a business casual dress code. By 2022, the percentage of employers citing casual dress codes rose to 70%, while those asking for business casual attire dropped to 29%.”
A reflection of that change can be seen during men’s basketball games at John Paul Jones Arena, where University of Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, a suit-and-tie wearer for many seasons on the sideline, now typically dons a quarter-zip pullover, casual pants and sneakers. Bennett’s updated look matches that of many of his counterparts as college basketball has seen coaches “go casual” since the beginning of the pandemic-affected 2020-21 season.
This season, #ACC men's basketball coaches have ditched their suits and ties for more casual attire on the bench. Could the fashion trend become the norm?— Cavalier Insider (@cavalierinsider) January 27, 2021
“Trust me, it’s been discussed multiple times with our staff. We’re not a GQ staff.” https://t.co/OdoYJSgx1u pic.twitter.com/VwM4FhS8W9
The variety of wardrobe developments led us to the UVA Darden School of Business, where we checked in with professor Melanie Prengler, an expert in leadership and organizational behavior, for her take on office dress codes.
Q. Does what you wear affect how you perform at work?
A. The relationship between what we wear in the workplace and our productivity is complex.
On the one hand, when we feel like we can express our authentic selves, not only do we feel more like we belong, but we’re less bogged down with trying to look like we fit in and freer to focus on our work.
On the other hand, uniformity creates a sense of shared professional norms and a shared mission.
Q. Are office dress codes a thing of the past? If so, what’s changed?
A. My sense is that office dress codes are declining, but not disappearing. During the pandemic, many workers realized they can be just as productive in pajamas as when they wear a suit and tie. So, as they return to work, managers and employees are asking themselves, “Is a suit really necessary?” For some, the answer may still be “Yes,” and for others, the answer is “No.”
Q. Historically, why were dress codes developed?
A. Workplaces have historically instituted dress codes for many reasons, including cultivating a sense of shared mission, to convey competence and professionalism to clients, or as a function of safety – no open-toed shoes in scientific laboratories, for example.
At the same time, we are in the midst of revisiting historic norms of professionalism. For example, the CROWN Act sparked a national conversation around how historic norms of “professional” appearance were used to discriminate against employees with natural hairstyles such as braids and locs.
Q. It seems as if different attire rules are attached to people in different positions within the workplace. For example, the manager might wear more formal attire, while the staffer might be in more casual wear. Why is that?
A. Managers have likely tended to wear more formal attire because that is what has historically been expected of them. This expectation arises because, in part, what we wear shapes how others perceive us.