The Evolving Years of the Workplace Wardrobe for Women

Life is just too short to be constantly worried about fitting in. Remember that adage? “You weren’t born to fit in – you were born to stand out!?” Well, we think it’s 100% the truth. Workplaces should be professional, obviously – but since when did professional equal boring?

A huge part of what we “say” comes down to non-verbal communication. That means that people form opinions about us before we’ve even said a word, so we absolutely agree that looking at that part comes with the territory. But, adding a little personality to your workplace wardrobe, can also help you be more relatable to the people you’re dealing with, or create rapport in a sales or retail-based environment. We all love to take our wardrobe to that next level, don’t we?

But it wasn’t always like this.

We’re going to look at how the workplace wardrobe has evolved for women over the past few decades and the impact this is having on the modern work environment.

Image By nastya_gepp

These days, it’s hard to imagine a time when women couldn’t dress more creatively or with an independent style. But, it wasn’t always so. In modern times we’ve come to understand that fashion embodies a certain type of expression, a specific way of showing the world how we identify ourselves and, to a certain extent, what groups we see ourselves as members of.

It’s also not just about the way you look, but how you feel that matters too. There is a direct link between how we perform and the quality of that performance besides, based on what we’re wearing and how confident we feel wearing it. Now, when it comes to establishing that look that’s going to let you stand out, while still fulfilling the requirements of professionalism is not a luxury (intended) that women have always had. For the most part, the type and style of dress that women were “allowed” to wear were largely dictated by the job they had.

We all remember those quintessential “secretary” looks of the 1960s, so iconic have they become that they’re making something of a comeback, but with a modern twist. Think of hairdos so tight it’s a wonder those women survived at all.

But it was only around the 1900s that women started entering the workforce in any meaningful manner because, before that, women that worked would more commonly be found in factory jobs or in the types of roles that were more “domestic” based. All of those roles of course had uniforms, so there was no need or indeed space for any personal expression and even if there was, it is highly unlikely that they would have been allowed anyway. So, women started wearing scarves, hair accessories like ribbons or bows, and instead of regular shoes, boots.

Then as the women’s rights movements started gaining traction, women began to feel more empowered to show greater amounts of courage in their fashion choices at work. Lest we forget Melanie Griffiths’s legendary shoulder pads in the 80s Hollywood hit, “Working Girl”. Women had to compete in environments that were male-dominated and had to find ways of “masculinizing” their looks without sacrificing their femininity because the workplace was (and in some cases still is) something of a citadel of misogyny. The options were either going completely masculine looking with trousers and tailored jackets, or, in the case of the 80’s secretary or assistant, short skirts, stockings, and heels.

We’ve come a long way since then, and now women can take more chances with STAUD corset tops and sleek, long hair.


There are no two ways about it, our fashion reflects the changes in our societies more today than ever before. More laws protect women at work from harassment now too, so we can feel more secure in wearing clothes that fit our forms better than the “boxes” we wrapped ourselves in in the 80s and early 90s. As our power structures have improved, so too have our forms of fashion expression and possibilities. It is interesting psychology when you get into it, and there’s an interesting article about it, right here.

It is inspiring to see our young girls blossom into powerful, self-confident women and to see how their identities are inspired through the garments that define generations and create icons. Two words: Coco Chanel.

So if you’ve still been living your professional life through greys and pinstripes, it is time to get those red heels out from the back of the wardrobe, click your heels three times, and get to work!


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