Like it or Not: Office Attire Has Changed Forever


An agency leader who has hired several recent graduates sent me the recent Wall Street Journal story with the following headline: “What’s Too Casual for Work in 2023? You Can Get Away With More Now.”

His email requested that educators do a better job of stressing soft skills – including appropriate work attire – in our classes.

“Returning to a hybrid work routine has not been easy on the eyes,” he said. “There has been a serious degradation in what is appropriate for work. Whatever happened to the assumed rule that you should dress like your boss and clients?”

I hated responding that very few of us preach about appropriate attire in classrooms. “Perhaps you should,” he said. “And please start with not wearing hats indoors.”

That admonition gave me a flashback to a moment from a decade ago when I was invited to join a former colleague who now teaches PR courses at a public university to speak at a college in Louisiana. Upon being introduced, she led off by telling three guys in the audience to remove their baseball caps and asked them if they understood doing so was a sign of respect. They readily agreed and obliged. I think of that moment every time I enter a room where someone is wearing a hat, but I simply cringe and ignore. I decided to ask my friend today if she still insists on such basic etiquette and she confirmed that she no longer does so since “times have changed.” She added, “Students are more volatile now about such perceived criticism so I try to ignore it. . .sad but true.”

Like many educators, she added that she does cover appropriate business etiquette and attire by requiring students to dress in business attire for presentations so they are aware of business expectations.

Knowing this is a concern of many senior leaders, ambitious career-focused students and young pros hopefully will conclude it is wise to be aware of dress expectations even if there is no such written or spoken policy or they aren’t taught these important soft skills in college.

Photo by Rafael Sales on Unsplash

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