If you're reading this in a marketing agency, take a look around you. Are people wearing jeans? Trainers? How about jewellery, or hair styling?
It's a probability that agency employees are wearing jeans. Denim, created in the French town of Nimes but popularised by American tailor Jacob Davis and retailer Levi Strauss, have come a long way since their perception as a material for manual labour. Agencies now seem to use denim as a corporate uniform – whether worn by the cleaner (with a cleaning services outsourcer shirt on top) or the CEO (with a Jermyn Street shirt on top).
In a way, this relaxation of dress codes has taken much of the tension out of what has been a difficult situation in decades gone by. From the 1980s onwards, the invention of dress down Friday gave everyone the chance not to wear formal attire – although it then led to a much more difficult decision of what "less formal" clothing was acceptable for the office. Indeed, many people bought clothing specifically for dress-down occasions, when in fact wearing formal clothing for another day would have been cheaper and easier. As such, although the idea was sound in theory, in practice it was awful.
Digital agencies (Ignite Digital) have perhaps made the culture a little easier to grapple with. Where developers, graphic artists, producers and management are in one area, speaking the same language, a monoculture develops. Management feel that wearing less formal attire somewhat releases them from the chains of formality, while those further down the command line don't have to spend money on dressing for the office.
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Everyone wins… but do they? If a casualisaton of dress code creates a harmonious culture, then does that work for everyone? In an age where diversity of gender, sexuality, religion, and pretty much any other personal factor is concerned, how does a casualisation contribute to someone wanting to dress how they feel comfortable? Does it allow them to express themselves in another gender, or does it simply place a different set of pressures on them in terms of socio-cultural expectations?
There is also the potential of overcasualisation. We have all experienced the smelly running shoes in the office, the lack of deodorant on a colleague, or not looking after their teeth and breath. It's important in workplace cultures not to generate a belief that a casual work culture leads to a lack of due care and attention to the self. It's one thing having a pair of trainers to walk to and from the station in – it's another letting Athlete's Foot run rampant around the office. (Best diabetic foot care)
Ironically, perhaps one of the most rebellious acts in contemporary agency life is dressing formally. We all feel a certain sense of pride and respect when we see old men still able to wear a suit and tie day-in day-out; it's symbolic of both ritualised behaviour of times past, and ability to show that they are still proud of how they look. Maybe wearing a three-piece suit and tie, or unfashionable clothing, or having a just not denim, is the most anti-agency act one can muster. Read DigiDay's guide to what to wear for working at an agency – then do the exact opposite.
(This article contains paid placement links.)