Mad Men’s Don Draper would agree that the suit maketh the man. But you can bet the always-suave advertising exec never saw ‘Casual Friday’ coming.
In the past century, there’s been a gradual dressing down in offices across Australia – and much of the world – as three-piece suits, sharp bowler hats and in many cases, ties and compulsory hosiery, have been ditched for far more casual attire.
“We’re not talking about turning up in your thongs or something you’d wear to the beach, but definitely smart-casual as opposed to structured and formal,” says Nikki Parkinson, the blogger behind Styling You. “Maybe it was us catching up with the climate.”
Parkinson said workers’ choice of work clothing still really depends on the kind of industry they’re employed in. A barrister might not be seen dead in court wearing skinny jeans, for example, but those red jeans might be more than fine for a graphic designer.
“There’s been huge growth in creative industries. In those places it’s definitely way more casual,” says Parkinson.
Cheryl Lin, who runs fashion blog Business Chic, says work attire has its roots in military uniform, where the clothes – including their cut, fabric and embellishment – symbolise the wearer’s rank.
She says while casual workplaces might not embrace that code these days, clothes are still used to demonstrate stature in traditionally corporate jobs such as law and finance.
For men and women, style has changed considerably over the years.
“The flared styles of the ’70s, the power suits of the ’80s and even the mini-skirts of the ’90s (remember Ally McBeal?) look dated now,” says Lin.
“However, fashions come back – either because people work out how to style them to be appropriate for our times, or because they become relevant through popular culture like TV show Mad Men.”
Lin says the show, set in 1960s New York, revived interest in original vintage clothing, but also inspired US retailer Banana Republic to collaborate with Mad Men stylist Janie Bryant on several popular clothing collections.
Fashion-forward men are also again being photographed in three-piece suits at fashion shows around Europe, says Lin, who advises her business clients to avoid them for now unless they feel very comfortable with the look.
In that case, what can we expect in the next 10 or 20 years time – perhaps the return of Gordon Gekko-style braces or assertive shoulder pads?
“I think that corporates will still be wearing suits in the office,” says Lin.
“Corporate fashion tends to be pretty conservative and therefore a classic suit is rather timeless, although I’d recommend making sure the silhouette doesn’t date – i.e. will today’s skinny suit become the ‘flared’ suit of the past?”
She believes the technology used in fabrics such as merino wool – which is not just for summer clothing any more – will continue to evolve.
“Assuming that workers are given greater freedom to work from home, our work clothes will need to have the dual purpose of functioning for work wear as well as play/weekend wear,” says Lin.
“I find that most of my clients are looking to make their budgets go further by buying fewer pieces that they can wear to the office as well as on the weekend with friends.”
Nikki Parkinson also believes fashion trends may swing back to a sharper look – at least for those working in the traditional office.
“It will also change with the growth of people working from home and creative industries,” she says.
Parkinson says workers will continue to “jump on the bandwagon” when new fashion trends hit, and women will keep adding their own touch of personality to work wear.
“Girls like to play a little bit, we get bored,” she says.