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The Evolution of Office Clothing

Why hello there ladies and gentlemen. Yes, we are well aware that it has been quite a long time since we ramped up one of our terribly exciting blog posts. We don’t really have any sort of great excuses to throw at the fact that we have been negligible in throwing one up. However, we would like to apologize to you and the Google SEO gods that we have been lacking in some blog content lately. Best excuse we can give is that we have been extremely busy these past few months making a lot of changes to our website, products, and processes to make them more favorable for you. We aren’t here to talk about all that though, and now that we have gotten this awkward apology out of the way we would like to move onto the topic that has brought us all here: Office Clothing.

Oh yes… and if it isn’t a more appropriate time in the world to be writing a blog like this. We are smack dab in the middle of “do we let people return to work?” or “the delta variant is coming; do we send people back home?” or “should we let them work remote permanently or back to the full time office life?”. What a crazy time we are all living in now. With the dawn of technology, however, the office life has been living in a slow decline for some time now, and it has been rather apparent in office supply sales (which have been declining annually for some years now). We are here to talk a little more specifically about office clothing, and now so much about the office environment. As, office attire plays a large role in formalwear, whether in, or outside of the office, it has impacted the fashion choices of our lives. Today we will taking a step into how office attire has evolved throughout the generations until today, and the cultural norms that helped to shape that fashion evolution.

Going Deep into History

We can begin our journey with where it all began, and like most trends that influence fashion here in the United States, it began in Europe in the 1600s. Yes we were a bit skeptical as well, but office life started in those years when lawyers, civil servants, and various other professionals began their office life. The trend can be dated back to London where this really started to takeoff. Of course, this style in that era was a far cry from what we see today; sporting trousers, breeches, laced cuffs and throat areas… you name it… even capes! Believe it or not, this combination was supposed to increase the ease of movement. We would like to see someone say that today. In addition to the ease of movement that this ensemble provided it was also a showcase of class and status. Most of this early office apparel was highly custom made, due to the lack of manufacturing processes available at the time. This style lasted until the early 1800s when there was a massive technological shift in how clothing was manufactured and produced.

With the invention of the cotton gin and the explosion of the industrial revolution, clothing started to become mass produced instead of custom made which led to a change in style in appeal. Office clothing become more “cookie cutter” than anything else, still stylish though! Pattern and dyed fabric were in, and the laced cuffs were very out, thank goodness. As one could probably presume, office attire generally was favored for the male population as, at the time, women were not very prevalent in the office setting, however soon this was going to change.

The Dawn of the 20th Century

Vintage office photo of a workforce from the 1930s

The 20th century brought with it many extreme changes to world culture, as it did with political systems. This, interestingly enough, did have an effect on office and formal attire. The Victorian Era and monarchs were finally dead, and so were the old status quo of formal attire; with that social structures began to shift and fashion began to quickly evolve.

Out of the gate, men’s fashion was a bit slow to adapt to the turn of the century. Men still wore frock coats, vests, watch fobs, stiped trousers, and top hats (which were status symbols believe it or not). These apparel choices were originally meant for formalwear at home, but due to its affordable cost being $30 per suit, crazy, they also made their way to the office environment. These fashion choices were originally called leisure suits.

Something else also happened at the dawn of the 20th century, and that was women entering the workforce. This meant more female friendly professional attire, and increased comfort away from the corsets and puffy wire frame dresses of the Victorian era. There were very stout rules to how a woman should dress within the office setting, however. This revolved around wearing a feminine version of the male suit, with hats, gloves, bags, and shoes; all dark in color.

Additionally large leaps in fashion also came with the introduction of the two world wars. Like we touched upon in a previous blog the watch fob was also out in formalwear and replaced with wrist watches in the early to mid-20s.  Double breasted jackets turned into single due to World War II rationing, and trousers became more narrow. Women also protested billowing skirts when they were introduced to conserve on materials for the war effort.

As time drew on, things got a bit slimmed down. Suits also became far less colorful. Men’s preferences changes to a more Ivy League look, and JFK even wore a two button suit to a debate with Nixon (then a huge deal).

All of these changes had a huge impact in office attire. Formalities change along with culture, and that is no different in the office space. The drab train was soon to come to a harsh crash when the dawn of a new era in the 20th century arose; that era being the 60s and 70s.

With the rise of communism, hippies, and war, came a huge polar shift in fashion and formal attire. Office clothing became washed upon with vibrant colors, patterns, and forms of expression. Synthetics were introduced more into attire as the material shifted away from more expensive, more natural, materials. Wrap dresses for women were invented which allowed the female worker to be more diverse with office work, and going out. Both men, and women, would sport power suits, a first in office history where this was so massively accepted in culture as men and women became more equal in the office space.

Then the 80s & 90s hit.

When the turn of the 80s & 90s came the dawn of what is called: business casual. This turn of the tide can be dedicated to Donna Karan and Giorgio Armani who both generated a softer approach to office attire which paled away from the power suits of old. This originally was met with an uproar of backlash during the time, but as we can see today, has thankfully been adopted. Khakis and jeans became acceptable in the office, usually just on Fridays.

The 21st Century

Modern office setting. People around a table dressed casually.

And alas, here we are today. A crazy mess of century so far but that has yet to hit the history books. What we are experiencing today is a momentous shift in how office attire is about to evolve. We, ladies and gentlemen, are literally sitting at the new turn of the tide. Right before coronavirus hit, we slowly saw many offices, especially those in the tech space, adopt more casual work attire than ever before. Some even having pajama days! A crazy thought in the 1920s wouldn’t you say?

Now with COVID-19 causing many firms to allow remote work, the office environment is literally changing in massive ways right before our eyes, if not even becoming extinct. Will office clothing be a thing of the past, along with office life? Will it now be completely acceptable to wear shorts and t-shirts to the office? We will have to strap into our seats, and see how things unfold in the months, and years to come. It will surely be an exciting time.

If you want to leave a comment, let us know what you think about how office life will adapt below. Also take a look at our formal attire for men and women. You don’t have to do either, and depending on the outlook you may now have after reading this blog, you may not even want to look at anything formal again.



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