Office Rat-A-Tat: Office Attire

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One of the big differences I've found between working in an office in New York and L.A., is what people wear to work. Maybe because it's a much older city, or maybe because it's the business capital of the world, but New York dress codes are a bit more conservative, a bit more old school than L.A. where "business casual" now seems to include overpriced, designer sneakers.

Jeans have been de rigueur in the workplace here for some time—other than a select group of film/tv agents, almost nobody in L.A. is required to wear a suit and tie. Even the Wall Streeters here can get away with business casual most days.

At my office, one of the more conservative orgs in the city, we're business casual 4 days a week and casual-casual on Fridays, which is supposed to mean jeans that haven't been distressed and a nice pair of shoes but that doesn't stop some from wearing inappropriately short skirts and Uggs.
I'm not sure how you all feel about Uggs in the workplace, but I can tell you, they certainly wouldn't have been tolerated even 20 years ago. A cursory look at the last 10 decades of office attire history reveals the following:

Early 1900s: Men were all about frock coats, vests, watch fobs, and, of course, the old top hat.

img_MenClassicCollar.jpg 1920s: Wristwatches were issued to men in the army during World War I. When the soldiers came back from the war, they went on wearing those wristwatches, doing away with fobs, but, more interestingly, vests, too. Why wear an uncomfortable vest if you don't have to put your fob in it? Also, the stiff, starched detachable collar was still popular around this time, but softer ones that—look out!—attached to the shirt were gaining in popularity.

 

VintageAccess_LG.jpeg1930s: While The Depression forced many into unemployment, it also allowed more women to enter the workplace because in some households, if the wife could find work, one income was better than none. Suits were ubiquitous at the office; so working women adopted their own versions, which they complemented with matching hats, gloves, bags, and shoes.

doublebreasted.jpg1940s: Here's an interesting fact from work attire history: Before the war, double-breasted suits made up almost 50% of all suits made; by the end of the 40s they accounted for only 12%. Why? Simple: Wartime cloth restrictions squeezed the second breast right out of the suit.

photo1.jpg 1950s: Two things happened after the war: women celebrated the end of restrictions by opting for small-waisted, billowing skirts (One of Dior's used 20 yards of fabric!). Chanel's knit suits also became popular during this time. For their part, men continued wearing the same old drab Brooks Brothers suits, but, hey, at least the suits were getting smaller with each passing decade.

jfk2colour.jpg 1960s: JFK, trendsetter that he was, shook office wear up by appearing in a two-button suit on a televised debate with Richard Nixon. From that day on, three buttons were for old people. Also, some say that when JFK went to his own inauguration hatless, he killed off an entire industry.

002.jpg 1970s: My favorite fact about this earthshaking decade: In 1970 about 80% of shirts sold by Arrow (the largest shirtmaker at the time) were anything but white. Six years earlier the reverse had been true.

3.jpg 1980s: Wall Street and Trump took over in the 80s, bringing with them suspenders and contrasting collars. Maybe it was because men thought women should look like men, or because MTV-influenced fashion spread to the workplace, but women's suits all had large shoulder pads stuffed in them by the mid-80s.

Dockers-Custom-Fit-Khaki---Pleated.jpg1990s: the decade can be summed up in one word: Dockers. The suit finally gave way, first to khakis and then to jeans. Blame it on all those Gap ads, or just the culmination of changes started in the 60s, but all forward-thinking tech-geeks hung up their suits for good in the 90s and many others followed.

Other than in L.A., it seems today the trend in offices is moving back to more conservative attire. At least a little bit. What about you all? What does your office let you wear and, more importantly, what do you WISH you could wear to work?

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December 3, 2007 - 1:10am
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