Warren Bischoff, who leads a group of financial advisers in the Washington, DC area, has taken on a new role since returning to the office a few months ago. It’s the dress police.

In a single week, he had to tell one employee that white tennis sneakers were banned, another that bluejeans were unsuitable and a third that t-shirts would never fly. In a recent marginal business decision, he decided that “dress trainers” – brown shoes with a white sole – might be fine, but only on Fridays.

“They have a foot in both camps,” he said. “They are very delicate.”

More and more organizations are calling workers back to their offices only to find it difficult to telegram what employees can and cannot wear. Get too strict and you risk alienating people who weren’t thrilled to come back in the first place; be too forgiving and the environment no longer feels professional. In March, more workers returned to their offices in the United States than at almost any other time during the pandemic.

Warren Bischoff, who wore suits, now wears blazers. He says some employees still ask why he is so dressed up.


Warren Bischoff

Many hope that after two years of working in elastic waistband pants, they can get away with a more casual wardrobe.

Mr Bischoff, 58, no longer wears the dozen or so tailored suits in his closet and instead adopts a range of blazers and shirts. At a recent business dinner, the six men in attendance wore blazers: there was a string of text before confirming that no one would be wearing a tie. It’s Wall Street’s new uniform for former suit-wearers, Mr. Bischoff says, and yet when he shows up to work in this ensemble, young employees ask why he’s so dressed up.

“I have to defend my outfit sometimes,” he says. “It was the most casual thing I could wear.”

Mr. Bischoff has received complaints that the office has become too casual for some and too dressy for others. Her multinational employer is not touching the issue and wants managers to wrestle with the local dress code debate.

“It’s the elephant in the room of every workplace right now,” he says. “It’s a landmine.”

Jenny Cromwell, who works in an IT department in Alberta, recently received a directive from her manager that when workers return to the office, they should at least show up in business casual attire.

“Everyone laughed when they said they expected us to adhere to a certain level of previous dress code,” says Ms Cromwell, 43. “Post-pandemic bodies don’t necessarily match pre-pandemic wardrobes.”

Jenny Cromwell plans to wear a “business leisure” look to work which will include soft fabric pants and dress shirts.


jenny cromwell

When Ms Cromwell starts heading to the office next week, she intends to look into some ‘work leisure’ attire. It’ll be about finding every pair of loose-fitting pants she owns that could pass for professional, including dark leggings, and pairing them with dress shirts.

“Party downstairs, business upstairs,” she says.

During the pandemic, retailers have embraced shifting consumer preferences towards more casual workwear. Banana Republic launched a collection last year that paired blazers with hoodies. (The company calls it a “hybrid bandage.”) Dockers added more stretch to its chinos.

Some Twitter users are raving about a pair of bootcut yoga pants they swear they can pass for the office. The pants — $23.79 with Prime — have over 7,000 reviews on Amazon with an average of 4.5 stars. The promotional photos show several ways to wear the pants: with nothing but a sports bra while doing yoga or with a white button and pumps.

“You can wear them around the house or dress them up and wear them to work,” one reviewer said. “No one will even know they feel like sweatpants because they look like professional pants.”

Robyn Hopper, an advisor to the Society for Human Resource Management, recently responded to requests from HR types about how to get employees to not push boundaries.

“Leggings is a big deal,” Ms. Hopper says. “They talked about how to explain what they really mean by if it’s casual and if it’s not casual.” Ms Hopper says that in such a tight labor market, companies would be wise to consider employee preferences.

Cardinal Financial Co., a mortgage lender based in Charlotte, North Carolina, revised its dress code in early March to include non-office employees.

“Remote employees should dress head-to-toe as if in the office, although it’s unlikely anyone will see anything outside of the initial view presented by the webcam,” says the code, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The prohibited list includes pajamas, sportswear, and clothing more than 2 inches above the knee. Boat and deck shoes are considered proper footwear. Flip flops are not. The code did not specify how the company planned to enforce the rules, particularly those relating to footwear for remote employees.

“The more I thought about it, the more stupid it seemed to me,” says Dale Lavine, 29, who lives in Newport News, Va., and works remotely in Cardinal’s marketing department. “From the height, trust us to make the right decision.”

Cardinal said the dress code was several years old but he had “made some changes” to add remote employees. Asked about the new requirements, a spokeswoman said the company decided to reconsider.

“After taking a closer look at this policy, we realized it didn’t align with our company culture and we are updating it to reflect how we actually operate,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. writing. “Most of our workforce are remote and we communicate via video calls, where we assume most people are wearing slouchy pants and fuzzy socks, and that’s okay.”

Terry Madden, who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and works in business development for a packaging company, wears business attire — usually dress pants and a dress shirt but no jacket — most of the time. , although he has been working mostly from home for two years. years. He swears he’s more productive that way.

Research on productivity and clothing is mixed, with some studies showing that dressing up can increase levels of abstract thinking and others finding that wearing what you’re comfortable in can increase engagement.

Mr Madden, 54, was recently told by his company that jeans were okay (the old rule was Fridays only). “It just won’t work for me,” he says.

Mr. Madden will continue to wear French lapel shirts, dress pants and dress shoes. Last week he returned to the office for the first time in months.

“I got dressed up and didn’t wear suspenders,” he says.

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