Saturday 21 April 2018

Has athleisure killed the office dress code?

Casual Friday has engulfed the working week as the sports-led trend invades our workwear wardrobes, writes our fashion editor

Stretching the boundaries: models at DKNY’s spring-summer 2017 show
Stretching the boundaries: models at DKNY’s spring-summer 2017 show
Embellished trainers, €115, Dune
Next 44
Olivia Palermo
Adidas Stan Smith trainers, €85, Lifestyle Sports
Knitted top, €60, Topshop
Striped trousers, €16, Penneys
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

Dressing well is a form of good manners," according to respected US designer, Tom Ford. However, the high fashion world Ford occupies has thrown us a curve ball that Human Resources aren't always thrilled to embrace.

Athleisure - a blend of 'athletic' and 'leisure' - has captured the hearts, minds and wallets of men and women over the past two years and it's going nowhere fast.

It's moved from the locker room into the office and, in some cases, the board room too. But how do you pick out the boss in a sea of dressed-down staffers who look like they've just come from the gym?

The clue is probably the limited edition Kanye West 'Yeezy' sneakers that cost a month's salary.

As athleisure filters down from influential designers like Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga and Vetements, the commercially hard-pressed high street is grasping this key trend to its chest but HR departments aren't so enthusiastic.

The lines are increasingly blurred and in Dublin, where we have so many 'creatives' in some of the world's largest tech companies, the dressed-down code is a given. The 2017 reality is that relaxed, comfortable clothing and pants designed for workouts, yoga and Pilates have displaced conventional workwear. As for ties, the only people wearing them in London's coolest territories are waiters.

In the past, you'd encounter colleagues walking or cycling to work in their trainers and sweats but now, the guy you passed in reception at 8.45am could well be wearing the same trainers and relaxed pants in the boardroom an hour later.

The traditional 'suited and booted' combo has been pushed out by 'smart casual' chinos and hoodies and this season, expect to see lots of slogan t-shirts and comfortable trousers with elasticated waists. Some would argue that's good - sartorial conventions can be stifling and depending on your profession, can become class-ridden statements, right down to whether you wear a blue or white shirt.

The question is: how far can you realistically stretch the casualisation of workwear? Even Victoria Beckham ditched her signature bodycon dresses and trademark vertiginous heels and can now be found wearing comfy Adidas trainers, baggy jumpers and trousers.

There's that word again - comfy. Employees clearly want to bring their comfortable clothes into the workplace. Maybe it's a comfort blanket of sorts to get us through the long days, and nights, as the office environment grows more demanding and working days get longer.

But there has to be a middle ground.

One HR professional I spoke to told how she had to point out to a man that shorts were not appropriate in the office. That's not fashion police stuff, it's common sense. Guys in shorts in the office showing off hairy toes in slider sandals underlines just how far the 'smart casual' concept has gone off track. Now we have Casual Monday though to Thursday and beyond.

I'm all for a dressy trainer and, as SS17 stock arrives into stores, there are plenty of options that will lift an outfit from plain gymwear. At the Arnotts spring show this week, it was hard to miss the Dune trainers with their pearl and metal embellishments.

Olivia Palermo

Loose-fitting pants with 'go faster' stripes running down the legs are firmly on a lot of women's radars. Zara triggered shopper envy last season with their sell-out striped trousers (pictured above on Olivia Palermo) that represent a happy medium between sporty and professional.

This season, the M&S Autograph range includes a lovely pair of smart yet relaxed pants in a silky navy with white stripes (€65). The cut and proportions are definitely conducive to workwear, as are Penneys' very affordable trousers which look perfectly suitable for work worn with a cute white shirt.

They're certainly a better pick than yoga pants or sheer leggings that are only a step up in thickness from opaque tights. Those can reveal a little too much of you - right down to your cellulite!

I'm totally in agreement with my learned friend from a well-known Dublin law firm who recommends that companies introduce 'Dress Up Friday'.

Now there's a good idea. I mean, who wants to see your Friday clubbing outfit at 9am in the morning?!

Irish Independent

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