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When I see how you dress, I'll know what your job is…

Chic, elegant, casual, original, sometimes shocking, clothes have always taken a predominant place in the workplace.

If the clothes are before everything a question of survival and comfort, it is also a social rule strongly ingrained in mentalities.

A way of dressing can show a lot about the social class, the character, the taste, the religion or again, the habits of someone.

In some professions, clothes are imposed for hygiene or safety reasons or simply by tradition. We think about the doctor’s scrubs or the lawyer’s gown.

Besides these specific cases, there are no explicit rules relating to a dress code which has to be followed in the workplace.

However, subconsciously, the choice of clothes is always present in the world of work. For example: “What can I wear?” is probably the first question someone thinks about before a professional interview.

It would never be appropriate to arrive at work in a punk style or with a bermuda. But, why not? After all, the goal of an interview is to get to better know a potential colleague, isn’t it? So why do we have to come “disguised” to look like everyone? There are some good reasons for that.

First, you never know the person who is going to interview you. So you don’t know their prejudices, so it is better to dress in a neutral way – to take no chances.

Imagine…what would happen if a recruiter who is a country music “allergic” has just in front of him someone who is wearing the perfect fringe pants and a cowboy hat?

Hiring discrimination is one of the most recurrent and important in the workplace today. If clothes are not included in the discrimination forbidden criteria, they can unfortunately give some indications about your affiliation to a particular group which can be disliked.

The choice of appropriate clothes for an interview can also be explained by the urge to convince the recruiter about your professionalism. Ties and suits being usual in the occidental workplace, people more use those clothes rather than casual ones. Indeed, even if “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, the appearance is really important in the workplace.

But the clothes question is not just for the interview. Although there may be no written rules, employees are expected to make an effort to tow the company line.

Some don’t appreciate this idea, considering that the clothes choice is an individual liberty question and is part of the personality. Unfortunately, it is also the company’s reputation which is at stake.

Of course, the clothes constraint depends on the company and can also be different from one department to another in the same company. When people work with clients for example, they need to be careful about the way they dress. It is a question of trust and credibility.

The debate about this liberty of dressing as we want never stopped and often worries people at work.

Recently, we have noticed a “slipshod”, in particular with the apparition of the “Casual Friday”. This practice appeared in the 90’s in Californian companies and is now spreading to other countries, notably in Europe.

According to this practice, employees can dress in a casual way every Friday. If it’s now really common, this custom is also contentious.

On the pros-side, the Casual Friday is a means to fighing enforced hierarchy and alienation. The employees see each other as they are in “real life” and feel more comfortable to get to know each other. In this difficult period of work-related stress, sureley, any ideas for creating social relations are a good idea.

It means employees can show their true personality in this environment. It is a way to show who you really are, what you love and hate and from this point of view, work can take a new place in life.

On the “cons” side, some people think (or have noticed) that the casual way of dressing can lead to a slackening at work. Maybe one of the reasons is also because this practice occurs on Friday, just before the weekend.

Moreover, clothes can give indications about a person’s backstory and social class. It can create new tensions or discriminations which wouldn’t happen with ties and suits. It is, by the way, the main motivation in schools which impose uniforms on students. It can prevent jealousy or even contempt.

Despite this apparently neutral subject, the question of clothes choice in the workplace covers more important issues than whether dots are currently more fashionable than stripes.

Mylene Grelliier

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