The New York Times ran a story Wednesday announcing “The End of the Office Dress Code.” The suit and its varied strains, the article argues—corporate uniforms that celebrate, well, corporate uniformity—are giving way to more individualized interpretations of “office attire.” As the writer Vanessa Friedman puts it, “We live in a moment in which the notion of a uniform is increasingly out of fashion, at least when it comes to the implicit codes of professional and public life.”
It’s true. We live in a time in which our moguls dress in hoodies and t-shirts, and in which more and more workers are telecommuting—working not just from home, but from PJs. It’s a time, too, when the lines between “work” and “everything else” are increasingly—and sometimes frustratingly—fluid. And so: It’s also a time when many of us are trying to figure out, together, what “work clothes” actually means, and the extent to which the term might vary across professions. As Emma McClendon, who curated a new exhibit on uniforms for the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, summed it up: “We are in a very murky period.”
You can blame at least a little of the current confusion on a concept we denizens of the 21st century inherited from the 20th: Casual Friday. The day—which is a bland office perk, and also a State of Mind—arose in the 1960s, the outcome of Hawaiian shirts and Dockers khakis and guerrilla marketing and the fact that suits can be really, really boring. (More on that in a moment.) And it ultimately laid the groundwork for today’s “end of the office dress code” by proving what today’s impulse toward casual work clothes takes for granted: that professionalism need not be contingent on attire.