The Eighties saw the introduction of many a trend; Spandex, legwarmers, the dreaded perm – and power-dressing. Thankfully, the vast majority of these have died out with the dawn of common sense and taste. However the concept of power-dressing has stuck around and continues to haunt us, shoulder pads and all. Something must be done. The world around us has evolved to accommodate the way we live, making things faster, simpler, and more comfortable. Why then, do we insist on dressing formally and uncomfortably in the workplace?
Work is where the majority of us spend most of our lives. If you’re lucky, you’ll be doing something you love. The likelihood is though you’ll still be doing it in a suit, a stuffy tie or belt, with shoes that hurt. And as for dress codes - at no point during the years I spent in the education system did anyone sit me down and talk me through the concept of ‘smart-casual’. Is this what should be being considered important in the workplace – or should it simply be one’s ability to do the job well? In their uniformity, suits quash character and mask personalities. Why spend thousands on ergonomic chairs and air conditioning to comfort employees, when we have a pair of perfectly good jeans that will do this for us?
Skimming through online articles such as ‘The Power Dressing Code’, ‘The Secret to Looking Smart’ and “How to Wear a Suit” the same advice is regurgitated time and again. Tailoring! Blazers! Wear a statement shoe! Really? There’s an idea being instilled into each and every one of us that with your £150 Next suit comes a wealth of knowledge and skill that automatically equals ‘success’. This is simply not the case.
One particular gem gleaned from these top tip websites was this; “It's all about looking the part and projecting the right image. If you look like a million bucks, it shouldn't take long for you to make that much.” Okay, I’ve got my suit on. Please money, don’t all roll in at once. While I’m not suggesting we all throw our skin-coloured tights and shoe polish to the wind, I am proposing some kind of overhaul. Power-dressing is a concept that was introduced to make the wearer appear commanding and capable. But has it become a mask for the less competent to hide behind?
Peter Thiel seems to think so. Thiel is a venture capitalist, and the first person to formally invest in a business that you may have heard of – Facebook, anyone? His view is that a confident and successful person has no need for a suit. In fact, he actively does not invest in any business where the CEO wears one. When discussing his radical take on suits, a theory developed after a series of failed investments, Thiel says this; “A slicked-up entrepreneur is inevitably a salesman trying to compensate for an inferior product...Maybe we still would have avoided these bad investments if we had taken the time to evaluate each company’s technology in detail. But the team insight — never invest in a CEO that wears a suit—got us to the truth a lot faster.”
In America, this has seriously taken off. Harvard University has researched the concept, naming it ‘the red sneakers effect’. They found that professors who dress less formally at academic events are thought of as more knowledgeable, not less. In Silicon Valley, California’s tech haven, there has hardly been a suit around for decades, and in that time it has attracted the world’s best young business talent. By removing the artifice of showmanship, the truth about a person, product or business is naturally revealed. By having the confidence to break traditional workplace codes, you are perceived as more independent, more innovative. So let’s wave goodbye to the suit – it’s time for a change.
by Lavinia Eastwood