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<<Mission Blog Home Posted: 09-06-2019

Picture This: Waking up in the morning and getting ready for work, dressing in a full gown and/or complete formal suit and tie. Sounds uncomfortable and impractical, right?! Talk about not being able to move with ease!

This is what those in the early 20th century wore to work. Every. Single. Day.

Fast forward to decades upon decades later – there still are standards for what can and cannot be worn in the workplace, however, I’m sure our great-great-great grandparents would be scratching their chins at what’s acceptable attire today.

As we think about our current state of fashion, offices of evolving business casual wear, let’s look at some of the decade’s best business look rules, according to Insider:

  • Early 20th Century: Gowns and full suits – sounds like a cocktail party, right?! These items were worn at work daily.
  • 1920’s: Women’s fashion began to evolve. Shorter haircuts and more masculine dresses and straight skirts emerged. No more tight and fancy dresses! For men, the color palette became more creative by way of flashier and colorful suits and socks. Perhaps our men’s J. Crew fashion today takes cues from this?
  • 1930’s: Slightly more relaxed but men’s suits were still commonly worn. Pants were creased and shirt sleeves became tapered. For women, the feminine side was slightly more embraced via bows and necklaces.
  • 1940’s: Not quite the 60’s but say hello to our friend, Color! Square shoulders and slightly funkier colorful patterns were cool for work. Additionally, the idea of, “utility fashion,” started to become a term that was more frequently used, for more women went to working during World War II. As for men? The double-breasted suit and bowler hat were popular.
  • 1950’s: Sweaters and pearls, sweaters and pearls! Simplicity was key – women paired simple sweaters and pencil skirts to create office looks. Men’s attire went back to single-breast buttoned suits.
  • 1960’s: My personal favorite! Here are four words to describe this decade’s fashion for women: Minimalism. Colorful. Chic. Sleek. Men rocked black suits and slender ties.
  • 1970’s: The birth of the women’s bold-colored pantsuit trend. In this decade, women’s pants were proudly worn to symbolize the fight for equality. Men’s ties widened and their lapels grew in size as well.
  • 1980’s: Powersuits are here. Women loved pantsuits so much that women’s fashion became more masculine by way of shoulder pads, large blazers and broadened shoulders. Men, on the other hand, opted to become more relaxed. Broad suits were all the rage. “Richard Gere’s game-changing Armani suit is legendary for its looser fit and effortless swagger,” according to GQ’s history of the suit.
  • 1990’s: Stay calm…maybe. Blazers were still popular. However, they were now paired with chunkier jewelry. This was the time when men’s business casual was born. Steve Jobs, sporting the khakis or jeans and turtleneck, became an actual fashion icon. According to The Atlantic, “ business casual” dress started to emerge in the ’80s and flourish in the ’90s: “Business casual consists of khaki pants, sensible shoes, and button-down collared shirts … By the time it was mainstream, in the 1990s, it flummoxed HR managers and employees alike.”
  • 2000’s: What happened?! For men and women alike, blazers came back and colors were heavily muted.

Today: It’s more of a wear what you want kind of culture….with some limits. Taking influence from decades past, our modern workplace fashion is dictated by each individual employer. However, fashion history opened up the world’s minds for different ways of thinking and looking at how one can dress for work while remaining professional. Overall, fashion has become more casual and comfortable, based on the variety of jobs that everyone can hold, and perception of productivity.  

As we look at the past century of workplace fashion history, it’s important to be able to wear items that reflect one’s fashion sensibilities and personality. However, we always have to remember this: As times change. how you dress says something about you. And depending on the job you have, or are applying for – put your best shoe forward to showcase the maximum you. Whether it’s with a bold piece of jewelry, a single-breasted blazer, or brighter color – the choice is yours. Dress for the job you want.

What is your favorite decade for work fashion? How do you feel about current standards for workplace attire?


Working Capital, Goodwill mission blog author
This article was written by: Carolyn Becker
Digital Communications Manager


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