Is Office Wear the New Everyday Uniform?
I remember sighing with audible relief when I was told my contracting job at a board meeting would only be two days. Not because I hate the office environment or anything like that, but because I only own two suits—and both frumpy hand-me-downs at that. If I were born in a different era, perhaps I’d have more. But today, they’re hardly a necessity. For many, business wear is dead in the water.
As Generation Y flocks to salaried positions, they’ve eschewed the strict (or even suggested) dress codes of eras past. In her article covering the new “Uniformity” exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Vanessa Friedman acknowledges that uniforms and dress codes are so outmoded, they only seem fit for the detached distance of museums. Certainly business uniforms have been an iconic staple for generations prior, from the Mad Men, to James Bond‘s bottomless closet of grey suits, to Hillary Clinton‘s spectrum of pantsuits. Millennials, meanwhile, are critical of practices that could be deemed exclusionary, no matter how exclusive the event.
The fact that dress codes unfairly target women and their bodies should be a surprise to no one. A Refinery29 article that covered school dress code violations revealed an icky trend of adult men reporting girls that discomforted them with low necklines or, in one case, a dress that could be revealing at a “certain angle in the sun.” It sounds like the men were already plenty distracted, scrutinizing their students so closely. Then there was the incident at last year’s Cannes Film Festival in which female attendees were turned away for neglecting to wear high heels. This year, Kristen Stewart wore black lace flats. Julia Roberts showed up barefoot.
All of which is not to say that the business dress has died alongside the dress code. Office wear is only gone in the sense that it’s no longer merely indicative of a person being at work. The sartorial norm of Wall Street has been hemmed into high fashion. Céline‘s Phoebe Philo consistently works to modernize business attire, dressing women in flowy, dominating suits—sharp shoulders for sharp minds. Ji Oh‘s 2016 lineup included cubicle-ready coats and business suits punctuated by Crayola yellows and fuzzy texturing. Fashion’s growing adoration of androgyny is perhaps rooted in the drab grey halls of uniformity and dress codes. What was once getting in line, is now an act of rebellion.
So, yes, uniforms and dress codes are a thing of the past. But, by memorializing those looks, either through the FIT exhibit, or through the iconography of pop culture—Buddy Holly and X-Files—we allow the look to survive through approximation. Fashion inspo for the new school, despite never having to wear them for school.
Images courtesy of Vogue, Shopify, Across the Margin.
Stay tuned to Milk for more shoulder pads and half windsor.