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Generation stupidly casual

It's work, not play ... is it time for Gen Y to smarten up about clothes?

It's work, not play ... is it time for Gen Y to smarten up about clothes?

Look 1: A young executive arrives to a meeting wearing a Yoda t-shirt, Haviana thongs and Calvin Klein underwear. You know what brand of undies he has on because you can see the logo peaking out over the top of his jeans which are belt-less and well, loose. The wearer of said T-shirt does not work in advertising, IT or a fashion store. He works in Insurance. Sales.

Look 2: You’re greeted at the front desk by a young woman wearing a skirt that’s smaller than a seat belt, knee-high Ugg boots and face that appears to be sparkling with glitter. She asks you kindly if you’d like a cup of coffee while you wait for the meeting … with your accountant.

It’s the Mark Zuckerberg factor - a billionaire in a hoodie and sneakers has given us permission to dress down.  

Look 3: It’s the first time you’re taking a new assistant to an important client meeting. She decides to dip-dye the ends of her hair blue the night before. When she arrives, she announces that the colour was a “bit too much” so she’s dressed it down with a velour tracksuit to make it look more corporate.

Welcome to work wear 2012. These are real examples from real Gen X bosses who are struggling with what their real Gen Y employees are wearing to the office. Much has been written about poor, old (or is that young?) Gen Y and how they handle responsibility. Their careers, hard work and commitment. Much of it is wrong. I’ve found that on balance they’re a pretty creative, intuitive bunch and who says they have it wrong? Just maybe working 58 plus hour weeks is a little bit crazy? But somewhere along the way, perhaps in our obsession to get them to stay in a job longer than a couple of months, we forgot to tell them what to wear when they do show up.

Etiquette in general has relaxed. No more so than for dress codes. When was the last time you went to a Black Tie wedding and saw a sea of tuxedos? It just doesn’t happen anymore. Wrapped up in this dismissal of formal attire has been the gradual dilution of what is and isn’t appropriate in the office. It’s the Mark Zuckerberg factor. A billionaire in a hoodie and Adidas slides has given us permission to dress down. Success now looks like the lost property bin at the local primary school not a three-piece custom suit.

Gordon Gekko is just soooo Gen X.


Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

When I got my first job at a magazine I was given a set of very strict rules and regulations about what I could and couldn’t wear. On days when I was required to greet clients I was not allowed to wear pants. Ever. On non-client days I was allowed pants but never jeans. I always had to wear a certain shade of nail polish and there was an unspoken preference for headbands. Sounds unheard of now but at time I didn't even flinch I just headed to the chemist and bought hair bands in every colour. It was only 20 years ago but that’s how much things have changed.

Interestingly, these school style restrictions meant that I never felt out of place in the office. A big deal when you're just starting out. I knew what I had to wear and that let me get on with learning my job. In a funny way the clothes protected me.

The financial industries have been hardest hit by this Gen Y dilemma resorting to the services of style consultants to help young employees find middle ground between self-expression and an industry appropriate dress code. “I don’t want to be called 'a suit' and I don’t want to wear one,” my sister's friend Chris tells me. ”But they treat me like I’m delivering sandwiches if I don’t wear a tie – I have two degrees!”. This is a brutal truism that perhaps many Gen Ys are overlooking. Gen X and The Boomers are still running the majority of companies which means as long as they’re in charge your pay rise may have a direct correlation to your wardrobe choices. 

Gen Ys know about the power of image – possibly better than the rest of us – so I find it odd that they don’t harness the power of clothes in the workplace more effectively. My early lessons in work wear resulted in a pathological hatred of Alice Bands but also taught me a valuable lesson about the significance of image in business. Even though I was the most junior member of staff I worked directly for the most senior member of staff. This meant that by the pure luck of geography, I was surrounded by people with the jobs I one day hoped to hold. As an 18-year-old on the minimum wage dressing up every day was hard but it taught me the importance of dressing for the job you want, not the job you have.

Just think about it.

273 comments so far

  • As a 20-something, I wear sharp uits and shirts to work most days for exactly that reason - I want to be taken seriously. You can still show personality whilst wearing a suit. Personally I am very proud of my collection of cufflinks.

    But its increasingly hard to find decent suits!

    The ones at the cheaper end of the spectrum after often too tight, badly cut and just generally look cheap and nasty. More expensive ones are nicer but also exactly that - more expensive.

    Commenter
    Sarah
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    June 06, 2012, 11:25AM
    • Exactly right, I'd love to get a properly tailored suit but try finding a tailor that will do a women's suit... guys get it easy on this one that's for sure.

      Oh and I wouldn't say the expensive suits are cut all that well either, unless you're a clothes peg

      Commenter
      Ailie
      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 11:50AM
    • Hugo Boss. Take a trip to California and get yourself a few nice suits and shirts. Half what you'll pay in Australia. I've been wearing them for 15yrs and they are the best value for money clothes I've ever had. High quality fabrics, well cut and beautifully made. Even the main stores seem cheap after Australia and if you get to the outlets they are just ridiculous. $500 for a suit that will cost $1500 here or US$180 for a pair of A$550 shoes. The savings easily offset the cost of your trip and you'll have a great time while you're at it!

      Commenter
      NB
      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 11:52AM
    • I went to Vietnam for my holiday last year and literally had an entire corporate wardrobe made. The quality is phenomenal and the fit is perfect. I highly recommend making the trip.

      I went to Hoi An and stayed a week. They will fit and re-fit you until you are 100% happy. I took a heap of cue dresses and other corporate pieces that I get a lot of wear out of, and had them all copied in different fabrics with a few variations. Suits, dresses, shirts- the lot.

      But be warned: all tailors are not created equal. We shopped around, and the best items were from '36 Le Loi' and 'Yaly' in Hoi An. I'm sure there are lots of other good places- they were the best we found. The best results were with items I had copied, and they also have a heap of things on models in their stores. Things made from pictures didn't come out as well.

      Not to mention Vietnam itself is amazing (not just Hoi An, although it was my favourite town), the food is great and the people are lovely. Can't recommend it enough.

      Commenter
      K
      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 1:00PM
    • I also wear well-made suits, shirts and shoes to work. I do it not to be taken more seriously (side effect), but because it's the best way to stand out from the crowd these days. Seems very few people (of any age) know how to wear anything other than cheap ballet flats and lycra skirts. Same goes for guys in their cheap, shapeless, crumpled suits with faded, paper-thin polyester shirts and dusty, unpolished, made-in-China cheap shoes.

      NB, you are so right. Sarah, if you can afford it, take this advice. I would love my money to stay in Australia but can't find the quality or a decent, well-priced tailor. I head to New York. You can generally pick up 2 or 3 beautifully tailored off the rack Italian designer suits for the price of what you'd pay for 1 in Oz. And don't forget the shoes.

      Commenter
      GrowaBrain
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 1:08PM
    • You should check out Bespoked, they are based in Melbourne and are trying to branch into women's suits.So they are willing to take all the risk. My girlfriend just got one from there and loved it but she was told if she didnt like it she didnt have to pay. Not bad for $500

      Commenter
      jrober12
      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 1:10PM
    • Sarah, another vote for off the peg clothes here being too expensive for anything decent, you'll do better nearly everywhere OS. You could also try HK or Bangkok for a (decent) tailor (you dont have to use the $25 a suit dudes) . I pay about $400 for a MTM (and a large size) suit they would cost me $1500 here to get made (at least).
      That said, they have had issues with a... er... Western Girl bust (if your a bit heftier upstairs than the average Thai girl fitting can be an issue). They do better with blokes.

      BTW we also forgot how to tell Gen Y office workers how to spell, calculate and manners generally.

      Commenter
      Teddy the wonder lizard
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 1:13PM
    • This issue is easily soved. NUDE UP PEOPLE>>>>

      Commenter
      Bean
      Location
      Beanville
      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 1:24PM
    • I now buy all mine online from Macys.com - they have a dedicated corporate suiting department, and you can get a two piece, fully lined, good quality suit for approx $250 - less even if you get one on sale.

      Commenter
      Kaz
      Location
      Online
      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 1:32PM
    • www.tmlewin.com.au

      You'll never go anywhere else to buy your shirts or suits again.

      Commenter
      Rachel
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 2:32PM

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