Dressing For Work Is Not A Casual Exercise
Remember the brilliant opening scenes in the movie Les Liasons Dangereuses? The male and female protagonists are each shown carefully dressing for battle--in that case, a battle of seduction. We love those scenes because we too dressed for battle each working day. We knew how we wanted to be seen, and how we wanted to feel. Seduction was not the objective, but persuasion was, and we thought image was an important element of the process.
Things have changed since the eighteenth century, and even since we began working. Most recently, technology has contributed to the blurring of the lines between work time and personal time. Work can now take place at all hours , anywhere. One result seems to be that people are now permitted to wear the same things at work and at home. And we're not talking suits.
We have never been fans of casual at the office. We tried it, but could never make it work. We needed some measure of formality to separate work hours from after hours. Our dress was one way we maintained that distinction.
Work is a formal exercise, with formal objectives. We believed our clothes should match. We still think that. We accept that, by saying this, Millennials will think we are completely out of touch. But that hasn't changed our perspective. And we suspect even they dress when they think it will help them achieve something.
Planning what we were going to wear helped us approach the day with intention and purpose, put us in the right frame of mind. When we wore excellent suits and authoritative heels we stood taller and with more confidence. Our clothes set us apart, communicated that we were acting with purpose. Once we donned our armor, we knew we could show up anywhere, anytime, and fit in. When we were younger, it made us feel grown up and serious. When we were more experienced, it made us feel like we could run anything. We liked being around others who were suited up, too. That meant everyone understood what we were all doing was important. And of course it made everyone look better too. Almost every body looks good in a suit.
We were just delighted when, at a few recent get-togethers with younger women climbing the business ladder, some of them commented that they were finding new pleasure in dressing differently for work. We think they are figuring out the same thing that the Liason protagonists understood well. Dressing precisely for the task ahead does put you in a frame of mind, and demonstrates to others what that frame of mind is. Dressing with purpose is part of our joint social understanding, and technology will not change that understanding so long as people continue to be in the same room together. Maybe one day soon focused dressing will again be the new big thing.