Every day, we go to work and face several decision points as part of our jobs. From the small details, such as how we interact with bosses and colleagues, to bigger ones regarding budget, deliverables, and outcomes, we invest time and effort in getting things right.
But is our choice of clothing among those decisions we feel to be important? Do you deliberate what to wear as you prepare for each day? Or do you grab something at random from a bunch of similar (if not identical) suits and shirts?
For most men, workplace fashion is practically an automatic choice. But if you’d feel more comfortable wearing something different, you shouldn’t have to suppress your taste in menswear. Here’s why men should learn to embrace their fashion sense and learn how to use it deliberately:
The unwritten masculine code
Men’s fashion can be restrictive. In most workplaces, it’s the accepted standard for men to come to the office wearing a suit and trousers. Accessories are limited to a watch, tie, and pocket square. You might see variations in color between navy, black, or charcoal. Perhaps a hint of creativity or rebelliousness might be expressed using colorful or patterned socks.
Contrast this with women who have the freedom to wear a dress or suit to work without raising an eyebrow. Most people in the workplace will frown upon a man who dresses in an avante-garde manner. Men who experiment with fashion or feel free to be fabulous at work don’t fit within the accepted norms of masculinity.
This unwritten understanding that men have to dress according to a narrowly defined code goes beyond mere fashion statements. It can affect your career and relationships with colleagues. It’s not just about you wearing what makes you feel good; other people, especially men, can feel compelled to express disapproval. They need to show that they adhere to the code of masculinity.
How confident are you that showing up for work in anything other than business attire won’t affect your chances of a promotion? Would you risk doing that on the day of an interview?
Style versus fashion
The sensible man would respond by staying within the accepted boundaries. You stick to your menswear staples but pay attention to the details instead. If you’ve been dreaming up creative looks, save them for the party after hours. Or keep them in your private journal along with the self-help quotes lettered with a heat embossing tool.
As a result, many men stifle their innate sense of fashion. They obediently go to work on the elements of good men’s style. And you can certainly elevate your appearance in this way. By getting the fit right, going minimalist on accessories, and following a regular grooming routine, you’ll make the dapper look effortless.
But fashion is different from style. Style is centered on the timeless; it’s the safe and socially acceptable margin of operation. Fashion gets a bad reputation for being obsessed with what’s fleeting and trendy. But it’s really about creativity, expressing yourself freely, and daring to take risks.
You never want to ignore style, because that shows you care about looking good. But if you don’t rediscover your fashion sense, or permit yourself to express it, you’re caring too much about fitting in the common mold. And in an age where organizations have come to value the link between diversity and innovation, that’s taking a step back on your part.
Expression and influence
Embracing your fashion sense puts you in control of what you want to communicate and how. If you’re in your 50s or beyond, you don’t have to be stuck wearing outfits that are deemed respectable for distinguished, middle-aged, or older gentlemen. You can still put together a casual look and go out looking good. It’s a signal to others that you are still full of vitality and capable of getting it done at work.
Fashion choices can also push against existing gender boundaries, which in turn might be tied to workplace inequality. Masculine stereotypes might have been handed down to us over the centuries, but they don’t have to remain in place. If a hierarchy is resistant to change in this area, perhaps it indicates the protectiveness of the power and influence of straight men in the upper echelons.
In this way, expressing yourself through fashion goes beyond a statement of creativity. It challenges perceptions and encourages co-workers to reconsider the norms. Ultimately, if you gain acceptance for who you are and what makes you feel comfortable, it improves the work environment.
And if you’re not accepted? Well, you know that there are better workplaces out there waiting for you.
Meta title: Using Men’s Fashion as a Tool for Self-expression at Work
Meta description: No matter how creative you can get with your taste in menswear when it comes to the workplace, do you find yourself compelled to conform and wear drab suits? Here’s why that can change if you embrace your inner fashion sense.