Mairātea Mohi continues her series that documents the journey of a shopaholic in her year without new clothes. 'Win the battle, lose the WARdrobe' reveals what it means to be a young indigenous adult in a rapidly globalising society. Read the earlier columns, here.
As a new, younger generation begins to enter the workforce and many larger corporations start relaxing their formal dress codes, the days of wearing the same navy suit to work are rapidly fading. And I say, good riddance!
The casualisation of dress standards could be a hangover from working at home but most argue it relates to our casual Kiwi attitude. Either way, workers young and old are turning up to the office wearing something comfortable and full of personality.
Having spent six months into my first year of working, I would say this time has been a real adjustment period - for my wardrobe especially.
What happened to dress for success?
Everyone knows ‘dress for success’, and we’ve all heard of ‘dress to impress.’ But when we talk about success and clothing, rarely do we ask, ‘is it comfortable though?’
Everyone imagines their dream job fitting and suiting them perfectly. Shouldn't that expectation also include your outfit? If that means a suit, tell me to shut up! But if it actually looks like a corset and chains, then keep listening.
Dressing formally is said to maintain standards of professionalism, make you more likely to inspire respect and also makes colleagues feel more comfortable. But how does it make YOU feel?
As somebody constantly walking between two worlds, I don’t know if I start with the reality that different cultures, of a non-western denomination, hold a different standard of professional wear. Or lead with the fact that young and old people have different ideas surrounding success.
Because sometimes, success in today's eyes looks like a mould free rental and affording the weekly shop.
But chances are, if you look around your office right now you'll see T-shirts, sneakers, chinos and maybe even a few pairs of jeans.
So whether your office dress code is "smart casual" or even just plain old "casual", it's likely dressing without restrictions helps you get your work done, builds morale amongst your co-workers and inspires individuality.
Corporate out, comfort in?
I feel lucky to work in a pretty ‘lax workplace: I wear what I want and creativity is often encouraged. I was growled at for wearing a crop top once, but otherwise I receive a lot of compliments!
I wear really casual clothing like graphic tees and hoodies, which may come across unprofessional. However, I could also speak to the lack of a "high fashion" corporate culture in New Zealand. Our casual Kiwi culture could never tolerate a high fashion environment. Our need to feel and be more authentic overrides our want to look fashionable. And I think that’s mana.
With the national conscience in mind, wouldn’t you say it's about time we stopped letting antiquated workplace standards rule the way we look, feel and act?
Lest we forget Rawiri Waititi and the infamous ‘tiegate’ incident. Or even the row caused by his wearing of Jordans in Parliament. All poor excuses of your boss singling you out over a fashion choice. Or, in Waititi’s case, a political choice.
There’s an obvious rise in the ‘office sneaker’. And an even steeper decline of the tan office stocking. This indicates that comfort is in and corporate (attire) is out, so let’s all start dressing to our best selves.
So… How does an early 20-something dress for the office?
I always loved when American kids' shows would inevitably have a school uniform episode which had the main character jazzing up their boring outfit in some way. Think Raven-Symone spicing a navy blazer with a little red feather boa and embellishing her red tartan skirt with gold hardware. The red Converse and the boys’ uniform tie was particularly iconic.
Having recently finished 13 years of uniform wearing at school, there’s no chance you’d find me donning a repeated outfit. I have been slowly building my closet since starting uni five years ago.
When I first left school, I spent my fun bucks (deducted from wages and Studylink = $40 a week) on club clothes. Well, with nowhere to go and all dressed up, I have no choice but to wear these heaux fits to work.
At first, the idea of repurposing my club outfits for work felt extremely inappropriate but my wallet said otherwise. Now that I’ve been doing it for half a year, I just love how easy it is to go from office drinks to date night.
While there's no obvious metric for what is "too casual" at work, there is a generous middle ground when it comes to dressing for the office. Some experts say to dress as smartly as you would if you were going out on a date.
And if all else fails just remember: style comes from within you, not within your closet.
How to turn your club ‘fits into workwear
If you begin your workday staring at your wardrobe in despair and at your wallet with pure hopelessness, here are some tips on how to repurpose your 9pm fit for your 9am meeting.
My clothes have not only danced over sticky bar floors but have also waltzed themselves into many board meetings, so you know I practise what I’m preaching (tip: the secret is always layering).
Your tiny tops deserve to be seen all year round! Try pairing it with a nice button up or a turtleneck to add some spice to an otherwise boring outfit.
Whether it's maxi or midi, the right skirt can make a statement without you even saying a word. Making this garment more office friendly can easily be done by pairing your mini with some chunky footwear or tights (the colourful the better!) Extra points if you're brave enough to layer your skirts over a trouser or long skirt (you’re a big time hautie aren’t ya?).
Look through the weird stares and bring your sheer tops to work. While risky on their own, they elevate sleeveless dresses and bring an edge to a pant suit moment. Just be sure you’re layering properly underneath.
(Want to play a game? Try and guess which photos were taken in a club bathroom and which ones were taken in a Stuff bathroom. Good luck!)