Varsha Subramanian, 25, quit a corporate job that mandated uniforms. “It just wasn’t me. It wasn’t my core,” says Subramanian, now a digital marketing strategist working at a Delhi-based premium loungewear brand. There’s a new crop of employees like Subramanian, Gen Zs and younger millennials, for whom dressing to work is also a matter of self-expression. These twenty-somethings are rolling their eyes at the antiquated idea of a dress code, which subtly but undeniably, correlates clothing choices with workplace safety.
The shift isn’t just a matter of personal taste — it is a reflection of changing workplace dynamics. Nonconforming fashion is in and individualism is definitely on the rise, according to marketing specialist Jessie Paul. “Before, if you were collectivist and you conform to dress codes, in exchange, your employer will look after you. Now that the employee-employer family link and loyalty is broken, everyone feels like they are on their own and they can act in their best interests,” says Paul.
Many corporate workplaces and consulting companies around the country have relaxed their dress codes in recent years. Like so much else, this is credited to the pandemic as well. After two years of hastily throwing a somewhat formal jacket over a T-shirt and pyjama pants for Zoom calls during Covid, comfort is at the centre of workwear now. Comfortable sneakers have replaced heels. Stretchy athleisure pants have made formal trousers extinct, and young professionals in anti-fit blazers and bright colours are lighting up the boardrooms. Pencil skirts and white polyester shirts have been reported missing.
Many brands have recognised the radical swings in workwear attire. From incorporating more fashion-forward pieces in the catalogue to downplaying the aura of formal workwear that once permeated the messaging, lifestyle brands like FableStreet (now FS life) are into a complete rethink of what constitutes workwear. The answer is everything, says Ayushi Gudwani, Founder, FS life.
“We have transitioned from a pure play workwear brand to a premium western-wear brand. We are also introducing bolder prints, crop tops, going shorter on hemlines, launching ‘live-in’ trousers to cater to the changing consumer base,” says Gudwani.
While some are reinventing themselves to keep pace, newer brands have emerged during Covid to further push the envelope. Take the case of Valtta, a D2C women’s clothing brand that is trying to be known for “power dressing.”
Founded by Komal Bundile and Bhushan Maroti in 2021, the big puffed blouses, the tailored pantsuits, the bright coloured co-ord sets, the high-waisted tulip skirts and the bold print dresses are proof that formal wear, as we know it, is marching steadily towards extinction. “Women are no longer hesitant to indulge in power dressing and signal authority. Valtta is for bold, unapologetic women who are ready to turn some heads when they walk into a room,” says Co-Founder Bundile.
Unisex clothing (androgynous, for that matter) is an alluring trend that has also helped brands cater to many gender identities. For men, especially, it is no longer restricted to strictly masculine aesthetics. Crisply tailored suits get dressed up with men’s jewellery like rings and charming necklaces and bracelets. Sometimes it is subtle and down to the details — jewelled buttons, velvet lining on shirts, and gender-bending colours. The stigma against men in makeup has also begun to fade. Clean-shaven looks are no longer mandatory as men are sporting trendy man buns and long beards to work.
Social media is a huge enabler. After a two-year hiatus and complete keyboard-up dressing, men and women are turning to social media for inspiration. Canada-based Jashandeep Kaur started her page @TheLifestyleCog a year back. A project manager of a construction business on weekdays and a lifestyle influencer on weekends, her OOTDs and styling tips for getting ready to work blew up on social media last year. She has 2.5 lakh followers on Instagram alone.
One reason Kaur gives for her social media fame is that she shapes her videos around sustainability and helps people build their own capsule wardrobes for their personal style. “My aim was to help them build a capsule wardrobe made up of versatile pieces that can be mixed and matched as you please, for an infinite number of combinations. Social media is where everyone seeks and derives inspiration. It is definitely a huge influence,” she says.
Not just employees, some start-up bosses like CashKaro’s Swati Bhargava have also ditched boring black suits in favour of chic satin co-ord sets and traded pencil skirts for oversized pantsuits. Bhargava routinely experiments with newer brands developing a new language of workwear for women in India.
“Embracing fashion as an expression of one’s personality is encouraging everyone, especially women, to be more of themselves rather than fitting into a stereotype. You are allowed to bring your personality to work, you don’t have to leave it behind at home,” says Bhargava.