Business-professional attire requirements are absolutely useless. Yes, I said it, and you were probably thinking it too. As society continues to progress, the suit-and-tie standard has not. Have you ever wondered why that is? Well, this is the place for you. Let’s talk about how the business-professional look started, why it continued and what we should do now. But first, a quick history lesson.
Back in the early 1800’s, powdered wigs and coats with tails were still the norm for the average citizen. However, Beau Brummell set out to change that. He rejected ‘frock coats’ — the ones with tails — and instead wore full-length pants with a traditional jacket. This was the prototypical suit, and it served as the primary form of business attire for decades. In the 1900’s, this continued with an array of dark, grayscale colors.
With World War II, this effect was magnified. More and more businessmen supported the traditional dark suit, white shirt and dark tie. However, I’m not here to bore you with the average lapel size or how the suit was supposed to fit over time. The point here was, they were ubiquitous with the “American Businessman.” Now I have said ‘businessman’ intentionally, because the incorporation of women into the workforce helped spark some second thoughts about business-professional attire. Nevertheless, the culture shock of the ‘70s and ’80s are what really got things moving.
With the rise of silicon valley, many young tech companies began employing a more casual dress. This is because they were spending an increasing amount of time behind the desk, and began to focus more on results than on the processes to get those results. Fortunately, the rest of the United States has made that same shift. We are no longer all going to ‘the factory’ for eight hours a day, nor are we all cold-calling strangers in order to sell them an insurance policy. With more of our lives becoming more flexible, it makes sense that our attire has changed too.
Obviously, this is not a new concept to you. You have probably seen the old photos of people in three-piece suits boarding an airplane, or a couple going to a movie theatre in their finest attire. Everywhere in our lives, the dress code changes. Fortunately, we are making progress.
According to Indeed in 2019, half of current companies allow workers to dress casually every day. Large firms like Google and Goldman Sachs have made the shift to a casual-first environment.
Even the modern-day superstar Amazon has adopted this policy. According to their site, their official interview dress code is “comfortable and casual.” Now why is that, exactly?
According to Amazon, it is because “(they)’re interested in what you have to say, not what you are wearing.” The biggest, brightest and most forward thinking firms all agree: Results are much more important than how you look while attempting to accomplish them.
Yes, the traditional professional attire does give off status signs of power. Do you know what else gave off those same signs? A Hummer. Yes, you heard me, the same car that seemed to come with some deep-seated self-esteem issues for the owner. The business professional dress code is the Hummer of clothing. Looks great in theory, but once you try to actually go anywhere or do anything, you realize you were better off opting for something a bit more boring and comfortable.
“But Max, I am just a reader of this article! I have no power in terms of shaping societal dress standards!”
Hey there, hypothetical reader! Good point, however, that isn’t the case.
Society as a whole is responsible for shaping our societal dress code. Men could wear powdered wigs in the 1800’s because men wore powdered wigs in the 1800’s. We cannot wear a powdered wig today because nobody else wears a powdered wig today. However, there was someone, somewhere who decided: “You know what? I don’t want to look like my grandmother today. I will show the world my real hair!” After that, the wave of change was able to grow.
We have the same power today. Don’t like business professional clothing? Do everything you can to make that known! Ask your supervisor why it is required at that event. Ask other people attending if they believe a more casual dress code would be more beneficial to all. Encourage others around you to speak out as well. We may not have been able to defeat the Hummer, but we may be able to work together to take down the three-piece suit.
Max Thompson is a junior at UT this year majoring in business management and journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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