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A History Of Workplace Wardrobe Trends

While highly specific fashion trends dictated the cuts and colors of the suit, the basic elements remained unchanged for centuries. Men still generally dressed somberly to suit the formality and gravitas that came with aspiring to be a captain of industry. Fabrics’ stripes and weaves signified their means and contrasted sharply to the “Leisure suit.” Originally meant to be worn at home, these garments became popular in the workplace because, at less than $30 per suit, they were a more affordable option for office dressing. John F. Kennedy took that a step further when he wore a two-button suit in a televised debate with Richard Nixon rendering three-button suits old-fashioned. Everyone from CEOs to working girls from the suburbs sported massive power suits. In 1994, Bing Gordon, the cofounder of Electronic Arts, told Fortune, “If you don’t have anything to say, wear a suit.” And the “Suits” themselves, once moguls and mavens, were now thought to be Luddites. “Part of the rationale for the change might have been that Goldman was trying to attract a younger and more diverse workforce, and suits may send unintended messages about hierarchy and inclusiveness,” says Scott Young, managing director of Client Delivery at CultureIQ. There are limits to these wardrobe freedoms.

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