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Has corporate dress code become more lax
Much of the conversation has been sparked by the Virgin Group’s Richard Branson and his profuse dislike of the tie and his pursuit to have it removed.
“I’d encourage staff to wear any clothing they think will help them to work the most productively and enjoy their day. If that means shorts and a vest, then that’s fine, and not just in baking weather. The only exception should be places like airlines where it’s important to know who are passengers and who are crew,” the billionaire businessman wrote in one of his blog posts on the company’s website.
While all of this may be true – and in an ideal world, it could work – it’s not necessarily feasible in the conservative culture of corporate SA.
Pearl Motsilanyane, the Founding Director of corporate image consultancy firm Corpele, believes that “corporate wear is corporate wear is corporate wear” and that the notion that anyone can get away with looking any way they want, especially in a highly corporate environment, is not only misleading, but can also be detrimental to your future career.
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“People want to exercise their freedom and expression of their personalities. However, it’s important to understand the corporate world. It’s not all about self-expression and personal brand, but it’s also about the brand of the company,” says Motsilanyane.
Motsilanyane says that if one has visible tattoos “all over the show” then this will put your personal brand and the company’s brand in conflict. Rather, you should focus on finding a common and comfortable ground for mixing the two so that they work well together.
Dumi Gwebu, a fashion stylist and designer, agrees with Motsilanyane. While there has definitely been an evolution in corporate wear, the South African corporate space is still very conservative and traditional.
“At the moment, corporate wear has seen an amazing evolution in SA, but we’re still a very conservative country. Blacks and greys are still at the forefront especially in highly corporate environments,” he says.
In creative industries such as media and film, the dress code is not often restricted. These work environments are often more flexible as far as the dress code is concerned. Whether you chose to wear clothing that is formal or super casual makes no difference in terms of how they are viewed and how seriously their role is taken.
The spaces that Motsilanyane and Gwebu are referring to include places like law firms, accounting firms and financial institutions. Spaces that are still quite conservative and traditional in their approach to business, as well as the issue of dress codes.
Motsilanyane says the most important thing is to understand what your company stands for and to dress appropriately for that.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stick to black pants, black blazer and a white shirt staple. You can still experiment with colours, shapes and trends, but not to the point where it begins to lose it’s professional edge. As far as colour is concerned, it’s important to understand that colours communicate certain meanings and, depending on the message you want to communicate, it’s important to understand that colour that will either enhance or inhibit your message.
“As rigid and monotonous as corporate dress code can be, there’s always space to push the envelope a bit and reflect a bit of your own personality. Look at the series Suits for example. The characters are the perfect example of keeping it corporate, but with an edge,” Gwebu says.
According to Motsilanyane, a lot of her corporate clients complain that they struggle to find professional individuals to represent their companies’ brands. Also, she points out that during the developmental phase when individuals have worked at a company for a couple of years and are due for a promotion, they are sometimes overlooked because of how they present themselves.
The message is quite clear: before you flaunt your tattoo, reveal a bit of cleavage or shorten your skirt, suss out the environment you’re in, understand the company you’re working for and find a balance between your personal brand and that of the company – so that you don’t lose yourself completely, but still maintain a professional and acceptable image.
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