Wear What You Like to Work
James Russell, NZ Herald, 13 March 2006
What to wear? Pin stripes or polka dots? Patent leather or canvas?
Back in the 80s, the art of atiring for business
was elevated to giddy heights with the advent of power dressing. Big
hair, big shoulders, cravat blouses, silk, polyester, crepe de chine
substitutes and severely tailored suits for the men were the order
of the day. A brick-sized mobile phone was the ultimate accessory.
Then along came the internet and the Generation Xers who were driving
it. The dot com boom saw sweatshirt and jean-sporting youngsters infiltrating
the top echelons of business and blissfully ignoring the rules of
business attire. The consequent bust saw a half-hearted comeback of
the suit, but its stronghold on the the business world had taken a
So what now? Does appearance really matter anymore or are employers
focussing solely on the talent and skills of would-be employees?
When you turn up for an interview wearing a three-piece suit and find
your interviewers wearing open-necked shirts and blue jeans, it can
throw off your concentration, not to mention your expectations of
how hiring managers are supposed to present themselves.
That's precisely what happened to Rowan Tomkin last year when he applied
for the job of manager of human resources with Vodafone New Zealand.
Now he is enjoying a company policy that allows staff to wear what
they want - including shorts and jandals.
"The policy reflects what the company feels is important. It's part
of our values of being yourself and expressing yourself as an individual,"
"We simply just ask people to use their judgement in dressing themselves;
if you are going to meet a client, dress appropriately; if you are
spending the day at work, dress as you please. There are some shorts
and jandals about, but not many."
Another Vodafone employee, communications officer Leigh Owens, says:
"It has been part of the culture from the word go. People are employed
for who they are as individuals. We don't tell them how to dress."
Owens says that the policy is one of the reasons that people enjoy
working at Vodafone.
"With a policy like this you don't have to put on a costume, either
in how you dress or how you act."
So how is the suit selling industry holding up under this onslaught
of casual threads? David Eggleton, owner of Suits on Broadway in Newmarket
and Leo O'Malleys in the city, says that suits have definitely become
less popular over the past decade.
Joe Macky of Cambridge Clothing says clothing is becoming less formal.
"Within that trend, however, there are bumps and hollows and suits
are popular at present."
Macky believes that the current demand is generated by baby boomers
and young people new to the workforce who are keen to make an impression.
"If you are in a role where you either have to present yourself or
an idea, what determines whether your attire is appropriate is your
audience. It is a matter of whether you will be perceived as being
credible or not."
Susan Axford, owner of Your Style image consultancy, also believes
that formal business wear still has its place in the office, but practicality
may also have something to do with power dressing not making a comeback.
"Part of the change to a more casual style is due to the climate here
in New Zealand and just wearing what is practical. But it really depends
on office culture," says Axford.
"It really depends on the industry you are in. For example, most people
in the legal profession still wear suits. It is still very much expected
of them. When you go to see your lawyer or accountant and you are
paying them huge amounts an hour, you expect them to look professional."
Axford says that written company dress codes are rare, but are a good
"The dress codes in most offices are unwritten, but it makes it much
easier for staff if they know the dress code. There is nothing worse
than dressing incorrectly when you arrive for work on the first day."
Axford says that the 'dress down era' caused a lot of confusion in
the workplace. "People found that they had to have three extra changes
of clothes and more for the weekend and it became expensive."
Is their less imagination required in wearing a suit? "Not at all.
There is still plenty of room for showing your personality with a
suit. Different suit patterns, shirt colours and patterns and ties
can all be mixed and matched for individuality."
Axford also believes that women's clothing has undergone positive
changes since the power suits of the 80s.
"Women want less structure in their clothing such as the shoulder
pads that used to be worn. The women do not want to seem so unapproachable.
Jackets are still very popular amongst my clients, however."
Whangarei fashion designer Sarah Hewlett is pleased to see the relaxing
of strict clothing mores in the business world. "I think that people
should be able to wear what they like in order to better express their
personality. It depends on what company you work for or what industry
you're in, but if people are being recognised for what they do rather
than what they wear, that's great."
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- Sarah, Ponsonby