Fashion + Psychology

How Does Fashion Change the Way We Work?

Global affairs and recurring trends have always influenced fashion in a very noticeable way. One very noticeable trend being the movement towards sustainability and away from fast fashion. Yet we often overlook the everyday impact fashion has on our psychological mindset. How do you feel when you put on your favourite pair of jeans? Does wearing office attire feel the same way? The difference may be small, but the impact on our mindset has determined the business casual dress code for decades. Often without realising, the clothes we put on can impact the way we work psychologically and consequently how we work in the office. Yet recently the offices are closed and our suits out the window, so work from home fashion is the new normal.

Business casual: mindset or dress code?

Beginning in the early 1980s, business casual has morphed from khaki trousers into the oversized blazers found in offices today. But the premise remains the same – a certain level of professionalism must be maintained in a working environment. But why?

The relationship between wearing business attire and productivity levels has been studied extensively. One study found that half of those surveyed felt that productivity decreased when dress codes became more casual, yet overall employee morale improved. So it might be necessary to dress professionally for the right mindset in the office, but in our personal lives, we can use fashion to express alternative emotions.

How do fashion and psychology work together?

Overtime as fashion trends become more experimental some of the expectations of office attire have evolved with them. This relaxation of office wear saw that by 1996, nearly 75 percent of American businesses had a dress-down day. And today some offices have no dress codes at all, such as Google, Facebook and other Silicon Valley tech giants.

So why can’t we all wear what we like to work? Often companies, much like schools, use dress code regulations to break down the barrier between work and home life. This barrier is necessary to reinforce the professionalism that must be maintained when representing a company. However, as with any kind of uniform, this also surrounds the desire to remove individuality. By making everyone equal there is less potential for discrimination and there are fewer threats to productivity levels.

Essentially in order to project a professional image to others that will reflect our psychological mindset, we use fashion.

COVID-19: casual Friday every day?

As fashion trends change what can be expected for office attire in the future? Can this be answered when the current global crisis has meant office wear is no longer worn in an office? With all of the changes to daily life along came ‘Video Call Chic’ – the smart top and pyjama bottom combo we all know, and some have come to love.

But has this meant our productivity has decreased? It is certainly harder to separate home and work life when the environment is the same.

I have found that wearing the same style of outfit daily blurs the lines even further. It is especially difficult to be motivated to dress professionally when my office is also where I sleep. As someone who typically prioritises comfort when deciding on any outfit, even I have struggled to embrace work from home fashion. The simple act of getting ready in the morning determines the mindset we enter the day with, and when it comes to working life our clothes may motivate us to get up and get to work. But when the office is the room next door all dress codes go out the window and perhaps some of our motivation and productivity with it.

The new normal: work from home fashion

This change to the normal function of fashion has resulted in different psychological impacts, such as increasing the lockdown blues we have all had to battle in such uncertain times. But I have often found that a certain outfit can create a positive mindset, which might even mean returning to the dreaded office dress codes, even in the living room.

Don’t worry, a lot of us are guilty of putting on a blazer with our favourite fluffy pyjamas. Or maybe you have taken to the classic ‘the camera on my laptop is broken’ approach. Either way, the past few months have disrupted the traditional relationship between fashion and our working mindset.

Or has it? Some brands have taken the work from home fashion trend and created entire collections targeted at those looking for new ways to dress up without leaving the house. Although these are mostly loungewear collections with a twist. Would you enter the office in a shirt that doubles up as sleepwear?

What will business casual look like in the future?

As life slowly returns to somewhat normal, it is clear people globally have managed to successfully work online without the need for strict dress codes. So will the standards for fashion in the office continue? Or perhaps the pandemic has changed the future of office attire and the mindset that follows fashion.

Undeniably, fashion changes our mood, whether you seek comfortable clothes in times of stress, or bold colours and patterns to express confidence. But dressing professionally has been a tradition for decades and not just to conform to a certain uniform standard, but to psychologically impact our mindsets and productivity. Perhaps this will continue in the years to come. Or maybe working from home has resulted in the standards for business casual fashion to dress down more than ever before.

By Kate Cunnington

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