On workwear

I attended Trampoline Day today. It’s an unconference that begins with an oversized empty timetable. Attendees are invited to raise their hands to host each session. In most other conferences, the emphasis is on who you are going to listen to. At Trampoline the emphasis is on what you have to say and share; encouraging participants to actively engage. You’ll see how this post has been stimulated by the experience!

L-R: The Grid at Trampoline; Me and Sarah Moran arriving at Trampoline Day.

I won’t go into detail into each of the sessions I attended, except to say that they each gave me something to think about and reflect upon and assess how I am currently approaching things. Take for example, BusinessChic. I started off this blog to help give people ideas on what to wear in their respective workplaces. As an auditor who has worked across different industries, I adapted my workwear to suit my various clients. Corporate suits for finance; Creative for publishing; Contemporary Business Wear for both Government and non-client facing days in the office. I see clothing as a form of artistic expression so I came to see workwear as an opportunity to express myself in different work-appropriate ways. I use the traditionally blue-collar term “workwear” because I feel that all of us are working at the coalface – where computers are the new coal of sorts.

Not everyone sees clothing in this same way. Today I was originally going to publish a post, a tribute of sorts to Jim Stynes who according to Garry Lyon, was a man who didn’t care much about clothes (sorry I can’t find the specific article to cite here). My point was going to be that what we do is far more important than what we wear

While that idea was marinating, I was in a session today on “What Makes A Great Workplace” when the role of what we wear came up. Particularly how it sets the tone for our work environment, what it says about us as a professional/individual and how we perceive ourselves and those we work with. I shared my idea re what we do being more important than what we wear when another participant responded that what she wears is incredibly important to establish herself and gain respect of sorts with the disgruntled teenagers she works with. I found this interesting, as from what I understand, Jim Stynes worked with teenagers through his foundation Reach but I get the impression that he wasn’t dressing to appeal to them? I’d love to know the answer as I reckon that there’s a disproportionate amount of pressure on women to look a part than there is on menfolk. For instance I know that Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s outfits are commented on more than Kevin Rudd’s ever were.

Another bloke shared how his Corporate sister “suited up in her armour” to face her day as an accountant. Whereas he as a self-employed creative who is pursing his passion and working in flow, found it more important to wear clothes that he felt physically comfortable in. This idea of workwear as armoury also jumped out at me. I’ve been reading lots of blogposts recently as part of #b03 – a challenge from Steve Hopkins blog every day for the month of March. Jan Stewart wrote a post on Internal Stillness and the future of co-working places being spaces where we can be our true selves so that we can thrive. I also attended a Yammer day last week where some traditionally-conservative and hierarchical organisations using this enterprise social network appeared to be generating more authentic and honest feedback and input from employees.

So what does this mean for the future of workwear? Well, some of us simply like to armour up. We like to show which team we belong to by the cut of our suit, our team colours. I’d appreciate any recs as I need to do more reading in the area but from my experience, I believe that the future of work itself will be increasingly around the individual. Instead of working for one company, we will each be collaborators working across different projects and using various talents and subject matter knowledge in each. I think we will increasingly be our own personal brands which we present by the packaging we put ourselves in and as the lines between work and personal are blurred, I hope that BusinessChic will be a useful tool to help navigate this exciting new age of authenticity.

The future of work where workers will drop in as needed like Mary Poppins and be practically perfect in every way.

I’ve a feeling that this post is going to be a work in progress so I’d love your thoughts on workwear  – please share via the comments below!

Me and Sarah Moran ~ thanks Ehon Chan!
Garry Lyon & Jim Stynes
Mary Poppins Perfect in Every Way / Mary Poppins


  1. That conference sounds like a pretty radical concept. Interesting thoughts here Cheryl. I used to work at B/akers Deelight with a uniform (polo shirt and ugliest pants PLUS a cap) and one day a customer came in and asked, ‘Ooh I love your pants! Where did you get them from? I’ve been looking for golf pants like that for ages!’ Now if it had been my own sartorial choice, that would have been a proud moment. Instead I just chortled internally and thought.. Lady, you can have my job

  2. I absolutely love dressing up for work – it’s the best part of the Monday to Friday routine! Last year, I had to wear a uniform and I hated it. Hated it. Not only was it unflattering and expensive (the generous-sounding $400 allowance extended to the purchase of about four items), but it also made me feel incredibly unprofessional. I was ashamed to be seen in it. Thankfully, I’m in a different job now and I once again have the chance to dress up. If I feel like being inspired by the 1920s, I can! If I want to look super-formal for no good reason at all, that’s completely OK! It’s fantastic.

    • oh Katie – how I hear you! While there are some great work uniforms out there, I’m quite relieved that I no longer need to wear one either!

  3. Such an interesting post! 🙂 I don’t have any references but I did agree with some of your points. I’ve been in workplaces where I had to wear a uniform, workplaces where I had a lot of freedom with the dress code and my current workplace where it’s fairly relaxed around the dress code. Each had pros and cons. I find that I want to dress more conservatively when I have a big meeting or two, just like the armouring up you mentioned, but appreciate that I have the ability to wear – for example – an above the knee skirt one day if I so wish too.


  4. This post gave me a lot to think about Cheryl. I work in a university environment as a doctoral student, I’m also an independent research consultant and a researcher. I find I dress for different environments but try to fit in at the same time. Given my cultural background (from Fiji) and how you’re really not encouraged to stand out, I’ve tried to mark my individuality in subtle yet obvious ways. It might be through make-up or an accessory or that I usually always wear heels. I find myself negotiating the spaces. My husband on the other hand, who is a full-time academic (lecturer), researcher and consultant, dresses the same way all the time. For a long time he had dreadlocks, one tattoo in a visible place and likes wearing flip flops. He refuses to change that no matter the environment. He wears what he likes and what he’s comfortable in, he looks neat but doesn’t always ‘fit’ with everyone else and he embraces that…maybe it’s about finding a middle ground…about negotiating spaces…

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