Dressing for the new normal

Is the “new normal” impacting on how we dress for the office? From the work Jackie O’Fee has been doing over the past month it appears not much has changed. 

Former Estee Lauder CEO, Leonard Lauder, created the famous “Lipstick Index” as an economic barometer in the recession the world began facing in the early 2000s. 

He cited that women would spend on smaller items such as lipstick and beauty products when they couldn’t afford to spend on more expensive luxury products. 

The Lipstick Index has been held up as a beacon of hope for those of us who derive our livelihoods from a mostly female, appearance-based business. 

For my own company, Signature Style, I really want to hold onto the hope that we will still spend on smaller luxuries. Certainly, I think with that international trip now off the table for the foreseeable future, spending locally is not only our only option but a damned fine way to share the love and support our own economy.

While some of the media is forecasting nothing but doom and gloom, I have only positive anecdotal evidence to share.

I may be simply experiencing the post-Covid bounce but I have been enormously busy, and in doing the work I do have noticed that there are plenty of shoppers spending in stores right now. 

A family member of mine works in a large South Island based furnishing business and she too reports extremely high levels of trade. In fact, her business is busier than it was post-earthquake and they are currently recruiting more staff and expecting to pick up superstar talent. 

One thing I spent much of my daily lockdown walks discussing with my husband was whether or not businesses would be interested in what their teams wore post-lockdown. 

Will the “new normal” impact how we dress for the office? From the work I have been doing over the past month it appears not much has changed. Here are a few examples: 

1. The small, but internationally successful, business owner who felt she needed to look more like ‘the boss’. She felt her team often didn’t take her seriously, and that as her management style was quite relaxed, when she did need things done it wasn’t necessarily happening. In short, she wanted her clothing to speak on her behalf. We didn’t dress her in corporate suiting, but a couple of sharp jackets were definitely added to her wardrobe.

2. A senior partner of a large professional services firm who told me she wanted to look “a step above” her team. She felt very keenly that what she chooses to wear sets the tone for what her people would wear, and she wanted to set a high standard.  As an example of what that meant, when we were looking at shoes she said “If I wear those, I can just imagine the sort of thing my team will turn up in.” 

3. The practice manager of a very large corporate with a “dress for your day” dress code. As she didn’t take many external meetings there was no need to wear business suits but there was a very strong desire to look polished and professional rather than smart-casual. 

4. The IT systems sales leader. Yes, he could dress in smart casual attire but he wanted his clients to know that he took their business seriously. Again, not suiting (he already had those) but definitely a smarter look for his meetings. 

So, as you can see not a lot has changed at Signature Style and while I’m not naive enough to think everything will remain rosy, I am hopeful and optimistic enough to think that perhaps it will not be as bad as what the pundits are forecasting (much like the devastation we all expected the virus to wreak in New Zealand that didn’t eventuate). At this point I remain cautiously optimistic.   

Jackie O’Fee
is the owner of leading personal style consultancy Signature Style. She works with both individuals and organisations.  signaturestyle.co.nz

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