CHANG­ING CODES

Men's Folio (Singapore) - - Features -

Then some­thing rad­i­cal hap­pened in the 1990s. Blame it on the rise of the tech geeks, pre­ceded by a lit­tle cre­ative mar­ket­ing by Gap and Levi’s (via Dock­ers), but sud­denly the suit has suc­cumbed to khakis and jeans as the stan­dard cor­po­rate liv­ery.

It all started with a seem­ingly in­nocu­ous work­place trend called Ca­sual Fri­days. What HR de­part­ments thought would be a fun (and free) em­ployee perk turned out to be the seed that even­tu­ally in­spired and em­bold­ened of­fice drones to cast off the yoke of their slave-suits. This new­found sar­to­rial free­dom left work­ers slightly stranded at the be­gin­ning – many were at a loss with­out the safety of suits – but with the help of op­por­tunis­tic brands like Dock­ers, the new busi­ness ca­sual par­a­digm was es­tab­lished and the (some­what oxy­moronic) re­laxed-yet- proper ap­pear­ance of khaki slacks be­came de rigueur.

The ad­vent of the In­for­ma­tion Age soon gave the tra­di­tional busi­ness suit its qui­etus. Techno­preneurs liked noth­ing bet­ter than to rant against it (“If you don’t have any­thing to say, wear a suit,” Bing Gor­don, co-founder of Elec­tronic Arts, once told For­tune magazine), while Sil­i­con Val­ley ti­tans like Steve Jobs, Mark Zucker­berg, and Sergey Brin os­ten­si­bly re­jected the gar­ment as anti-tech, un­cre­ative, and liv­ing in the past – in other words, dull. And when you run the world like these guys do, you can wear what­ever the hell you want in the of­fice, even hood­ies and jeans.

This shift in dress code wasn’t just a mat­ter of com­fort or con­ve­nience but sig­ni­fied a deeper change in the way peo­ple per­ceived pro­fes­sional suc­cess. The in­tense tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion has freed peo­ple from the con­fines of the work­place, lead­ing the new gen­er­a­tion of busi­ness grad­u­ates to be­lieve (and de­cide) that work­ing in a garage, in jeans, with the po­ten­tial to make mil­lions via a new startup, is more in­ter­est­ing than work­ing in a glass and steel of­fice at the bot­tom of a rigid cor­po­rate lad­der. Suits were nei­ther new nor mod­ern, and com­pa­nies that re­quired them were thought of like­wise; to put on a suit was to trail the band­wagon of self- made bil­lion­aires push­ing into the fu­ture.

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