Professional Insider/Trend Spotting
The New Formality
The weak economy and refreshed workplace regulations bring down the curtain on the casual '90s
The twin tyrannies of pantyhose and neckties are staging a strangling comeback, spurred by job-seekers and a renewed emphasis on dressing up for work.
When the dot-com gravy train jumped the tracks, taking much of the U.S. economy with it, the ensuing wreckage included layoffs in all job sectors. Though the downsizing knows no age limit, many of the younger workers are unprepared and untutored in the ways of the formal job interview. Newspapers and career counselors have told the stories of many twentysomething workers weaned on the casual workplace who showed up for interviews underdressed and underprepared. With many qualified applicants competing for a smaller number of positions, the not-so-old days of needing a polished suit, résumé and presentation have taken these 20-somethings by surprise.
Welcome to the Working Week
Even for those who already have jobs, the corporate pendulum is swinging away from a come-as-you-are informality. Workplace dress-codes, thought of as extinct reminders of the buttoned-up old economy, are back in fashion pharmaceutical giant Wyeth-Ayerst rescinded its casual-dress policy this summer. Banned are tank-tops, T-shirts, jeans and polo shirts. The new code calls for buttoned, collared shirts for men and covered arms and stockinged legs for women.
This corporate shift can be seen already in the media and in merchants windows. In Style devoted a section in August to selecting suits providing a tutorial missing in the past few years. GQ instructs how to dress for dinner (on the expense account, perhaps?) at one of those manly meat emporiums like The Palm or Smith & Wollensky. Brooks Brothers has suits in its windows for fall and winter a departure from springs emphasis on things relaxed and breezy.
A new, more formal wardrobe calls for new, polished jewelry. Remind your customers theres no better way to individualize a cookie-cutter navy suit and demonstrate taste and success than with an expensive watch. Women will need flattering earrings and pins, while men can add flair with French-cuffed shirts and a cache of cuff links.
by Liz Smutko