Why Have Americans Started Dressing So Casually At The Office?

August 20, 2017

We started the 20th century with corsets and top hats and ended it with sweat suits, T-shirts and flip-flops. This profound change in dressing standards is quite extraordinary.

How did this radical shift occur? How did we come from there to here? Let’s discuss some crucial factors:

The Birth of Business Casual

In the 1950s, Americans were incredibly formal when it came to the workplace. Watch an episode of Mad Men and you will see how different we used to dress back then.

The offices had their dress codes which were strictly followed by employees. Generally, formal suits (with a hat) were the norm.  

However, as time went by, tiny alterations were made: wearing colored shirts instead of the collared button-downs when there was no meeting, or wearing loafers instead of those closed-toe oxfords.

In the 1980s, business casual was born in Silicon Valley. It consisted of khaki pants, button-down collared shirts and shoes that were neither too formal nor too casual. Since the idea of business casual was founded on practicality and comfort, it spread into other industries as well.

Silicon Valley Today

Over the years, American businesses became more result-oriented as opposed to process-oriented. This shift led to a cultural change, and hence to a fashion shift.

Silicon Valley serves a great example of this – a programmer doesn’t want to code in a suit and tie.  She would really like to be comfortable.

Two examples from Silicon Valley are Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. The former is famous for his iconic black turtle neck and blue jeans; whereas, the latter usually wears the same grey t-shirts and black hoodies in his wardrobe.

Facebook’s owner aptly explains his rather eccentric choice of clothing in these words: “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.”

It’s Our Expression of Freedom and Individuality

Clothes are our way of expressing ourselves. We are no longer in an age where luxurious clothing defines the rich and ordinary clothing defines the poor. Americans dress casually because we can.

Talking to Washington Post, Deirdre Clemente from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas aptly sums it up, “Casual is the sweet spot between looking like every middle-class American and being an individual in the massive wash of options".

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