Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Work it: how office aesthetics have changed for good

By Laura Douthwaite, Campaign Manager at A Million Ads

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices.

It’s your first day back to the office. You’re rushing around your bedroom at 7am trying to decide what to wear. Are joggers still work appropriate for in person meetings? Is it skirt weather? Oh, but then you’ll need to shave your legs and wow how is it 7.30am already?! Dry shampoo or blow dry? How do you contour your face again? The stress. Thank god for working from home 3 days a week. 

After months of hiding behind the camera and only seeing each other from the waist up, it’s safe to assume that going back into the office will be a little daunting for some. Especially when we’re used to silk pyjamas being the epitome of ‘fancy’. 

Is this one of the reasons that (according to Harvard Business School) 81% of us don’t want to go back to the office full time, preferring a hybrid model? Shallow as it may seem, how we look and feel is core to our confidence at work and how we interact with others.

So how will it look when we re-enter the office? And more importantly, what’s everyone wearing on the first day back?! 

Interestingly, research has found that around 28% of Britons want to ditch dress codes at work and opt for a better balance between home and work wardrobes. On top of this, a further 20% were aiming for a more ‘relaxed’ attire with another 8% opting for shorts and flip-flops in summer. With less people feeling the need to dress in sharp suits and more people looking to dress based on what they feel comfortable in, a new wave of work style is crashing through the industry. 

With brands like Pretty Little Thing, Missguided and ASOS promoting more loungewear and the growth of athleisure from brands such as Off White, our working week could get comfier than ever. 

Not only this, but Zara’s unusual photo shoots in the last 12 months have laughed in the face of convention, including coats worn backwards or shoes worn on heads. What was originally funny is now a powerful nod to experimentation. And luxury brands are doing it too. The likes of Alexander McQueen, Moschino and Vivienne West have always put their own unique stamp on the fashion industry, whether it’s using horned headpieces or scribbling all over their designs with a felt tip. 

And high end fashion brands are increasing their involvement in workers’ fashion. Gucci’s Christmas ad from last year brought 90s chic to the office space, with the office Christmas party as the backdrop for their winter collection. Burberry even used their own staff as models for their Spring 2021 lookbook along with Moschino, and Marc Jacobs reaching out to employees and customers to help showcase their clothing in a much more relatable and neutral state, at home. 

Luxury brands have been working hard to challenge norms. Boy De Chanel and Tom Ford have successfully launched makeup designed for men. The male personal care industry is set to be worth $166 billion by 2022, leaving the beauty industry feeling much more gender neutral. Mainstream brands such as War Paint and Shake Up have given men the space to slap on a bit of paint and prettify.

Harry style’s vogue cover from December last year was a hot topic of conversation through breaking conventional forms of masculinity and bringing feminization into male culture. With toxic masculinity being rift in male culture by men feeling like they have to be a ‘manly man’, appearing macho at all times and not expressing their emotions; Styles broke the mould and redefined masculine ideals. Mark Brayan, a married straight man living in Germany, has worn heels and a skirt to work for years and no one has batted an eyelid.

Thanks to celebrities, influencers and everyday individuals no longer feeling the need to adhere to the social norms that sexuality and gender only appear in two forms: gender fluidity is a reality in today’s society. 35% of generations Zs know someone who goes by gender neutral pronouns compared to 25% of millennials and 16% of generations Xers. For the next generation of workers it’s not just desired but essential that we break down gender norms in terms of how we dress. 

A study conducted by a professor at Herfordshire University found that students wearing a superman shirt rated themselves as stronger, superior and more liked by their peers. Therefore what we wear can boost our perception of ourselves and have positive impacts on how we interact in a work based environment.

It’s time for companies to ditch dress codes in work and give individuals the space to dress to express, rather than impress. Companies need to listen up and throw the rule book of dressing ‘work appropriate’ straight out the window. As the next generation of workers integrate into companies, gender norms around dress will become redundant. How you dress has nothing to do with the quality of your work, aside from how confident it makes you feel to be yourself. So the sooner companies understand this, the better.