Office dress codes are dressing down. Expect uniforms to follow suit…
In May last year, an article in the New York Times proclaimed the “end of the office dress code”. Its author Vanessa Friedman said, “We live in a moment in which the notion of a uniform is increasingly out of fashion, at least when it comes to the implicit codes of professional and public life.” She cited several examples as evidence of this demise. There is increasingly more opposition to corporate and public office dress code guidelines that “impose different requirements based on sex or gender”.
For instance, remember the furore over a female London temp worker being required by her agency to wear high heels to her City assignment? As The Guardian reported, it even led to a parliamentary debate, which just last week called for a review of current legislation in this area.
The rise of millennials in the workforce has also been a major contributing factor, as many of this generation see uniforms as an unwelcome imposition of conformity. The trend for telecommuting has blurred the line between work and home attire, and the preference of successful entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg to keep it casual in t-shirt and jeans has changed expectations of what is acceptable. Even traditional financial institutions like JP Morgan Chase announced in June 2016 that its workers could wear business casual clothing most of the time instead of suits.
However, while we have certainly seen a shift towards more casual office dress codes, reports of its death seem premature and it has not precipitated the end of the uniform.
This is not a new thing though. If you take a look at Delta Airline’s online uniform library, what you’ll see is the evolution of their uniform as per the fashions of the day – more formal and fitted in the 50s, higher hemlines in the 60s and less structured and more flared in the 70s. Some observers believe that the introduction of Casual Friday back in the 90s heralded the latest shift towards a more relaxed professional dress code.
Professor Scafidi, founder of the Fashion Law Institute said in an interview with the New York Times:
“We are moving into an era where personal expression is going to trump the desire to create a corporate identity. It’s a huge power shift.”
…. and it has already begun.
So how do these shifts translate to corporate workwear and uniforms? Work uniforms are designed to make employees and the companies they work for immediately identifiable, while accessories such as hats or badges indicate an employee’s rank or duties. In 2017, you can expect to see more individual and relaxed interpretations of business attire as the lines between work, social and out-of-hours dressing become more fluid and the demand for personal expression over corporate conformity increases.
This will be reflected in the structure and tailoring of uniforms, as it seeks to complement the more relaxed work environment. Power suits will be softened and utilitarian looks will come to the fore. Employees will also want more freedom in how they personalise their uniforms. While some organisations – particularly fashion retail brands – might entertain this, uniform designers are subtly weaving individualistic, more artisanal touches into their workwear ranges for more traditional customers too.
So, what uniform design trends do our JSD designers expect to see in 2017?
Formal and sports loungewear merge, acknowledging a shift towards a more flexible work-home lifestyle. Jogging pants and hoodies are reworked in tailored fabrics while jackets and trousers are
created in soft fleece and jersey fabrics, producing an easy-to-wear, elegant yet comfortable look.
80s and 50s Reworked
1980s ladies’ power suits are softened and reworked. Think classic Armani with a return to comfort dressing. Silhouettes are less structured while maintaining a sharp, strong shape with softened shoulders. In contrast, men’s tailoring looks to the 1950s, with a modern retro slant: longer line jackets and baggy trousers that sit high on the waist, in pinstripe and wools, teamed up with resort shirts and neckerchiefs.
Garments are given a whimsical hand-finished feel – and embellishments are key. Mix fresh dainty embroideries with microprints and unusual placements to create one-off looks.
Add patches in striped patterns and mismatched or bold colours for an eye-catching detail.
Utility details will become more sophisticated, with patch pockets that are outsized yet simple. Fastenings like poppers and eyelets are supersized, creating a dramatic yet practical feature. Use bonded surfaces, coatings and heat welding techniques for decoration such as colour blocking or to create textural contrast.
Employees are company representatives and their uniforms are an expression of that company’s professional values. “But,” says Professor Scafidi, “there’s a counterargument that believes because we identify so much with our careers, we should be able to be ourselves at work.” Uniform designers and suppliers will need to accommodate these changes in employee attitudes while helping companies retain a distinctive corporate identity.
Look out for Part 2 of our 2017 trends feature, when our designers will share what looks, styles and colours are on their radar for men, women, and accessories.