Fashion is a pretty bizarre thing. There was a time when clothing served the purpose of helping us not freeze to death when winter came round. But, humans being what they are, it wasn’t too long before fashion was also an indicator of status and style. Try telling a caveman his loincloth is not a designer one so he can’t go to the VIP section of the casino. He’d club you over the head since you’d clearly been struck by plague and were delirious.
But seriously; there is no better place to witness the evolution of fashion than the workplace. Go back to the early 1900’s, travel forward to modern times, and witness the outrageous shifts that have occurred. You may forget how social norms have drastically swayed back and forth, but take a trip with us now and remember.
This is acceptable workplace attire from the early 1900’s to today.
You didn’t get much more ‘stiff upper lip’ than back in the early 1900’s. The First World War was on the horizon and things were about to change drastically. Since many men were off doing some shooting, women had to step in and occupy jobs that had previously been traditionally male. That meant new work attire had to be decided on. What was settled on covered from head to toe. No part of a lady was to be shown at work other than her hands and face. High collars were even required to cover necks, since who wants to see that scandalous business when you’re trying to get a job done?
Meanwhile men were required to wrap themselves up in thick, probably extremely sweaty three-piece suits. Flair was show in the way of epic sideburns and no one wore any jewellery whatsoever.
1920’s – 1940’s
Uh oh! What did we just say about jewellery? Not for the women, the men. Cufflinks are becoming a thing now, and your status can be elevated with a shiny expensive pair. The ladies have to settle for interesting hats, with an interesting bow. A tightly wound bow means she is married, while a more relaxed and flirty bow means she is single. Oh my, what a risqué knot in your hat today, Alice.
Things are really cooking up now. World War 2 gets underway and more women enter the workforce than ever before. Except now they have dresses that rise above their ankle. Naughty! Though, just because they’re showing some ankle it doesn’t mean they aren’t still mostly required to have short, sensible hairstyles. Stockings are also now a thing.
Men discovered plaid, and it’s all the rage. Their plaid suits are often accompanied by overcoats that hover just above the floor, otherwise known as trench coats.
It’s the 60’s, and things are going all sorts of rebellious. Women are now seen wearing pants, due to the feminist movement for equality. Shoes with heels are also starting to make an appearance for ladies; a sure indicator of things to come. Men are dropping formal work suits entirely, and settling for collared shirts. Plus, yes of course, hairspray is now making its long awaited arrival, and everyone is taking to it like ducks to water.
It’s the 70’s, and we all know what happens now. We have been too formal, so it’s time to go in the other direction. Fashion exploded with colour, perhaps a bit too much, if we’re being honest. Former conservative work sense was thrown out the window, at least in some venues. Top buttons are now undone, ties are gone, and male and female hair is down to the shoulders. In some cases, even down to the waist.
The hippies are on their way out, and taking their place is a bizarre mixture of bright colours and a sort of mutation of formality. Ladies are adopting the ‘working girl’ sensibility, which means shoulder pads and very, very big hair. Jewellery is here in a big way, and calling it loud is an understatement. Men on the other hand are bringing back the suits once lost back in the 30’s. Though, now they are pinstriped, and often accompanied by suspenders. Also, for the first time, skin is now acceptable at work. Ladies are showing leg and cleavage in the workplace and its all about power dressing on all fronts.
At last, it’s the 90’s, and now we have to counteract the 80’s. Colour is gone, muted tones are back, and everyone is a little angst ridden about life in general. Though, with a few added 90’s style extras. Everything seems to be oversized, with broad legged pants, and even broader blazers for the men. Women are now dropping shoulder pads for pencil skirts and modest cleavage.
Interestingly, after the 90’s work place attire seemed to lose any shape or form, and dressing for work became more about what was suited for the environment. Most businesses either did away with dress codes or relied on their staff’s discretion, which resulted in some opting for super formal work wear optionally, and others becoming more lax.
Today, workplace attire is very much dictated by where you work, and it seems most of us dress appropriately, but add a personal stamp to our look. Freedom of expression is more prevalent than ever before, and this is now often reflected in what we wear to work.