A blurred line between work and leisure hasn’t made made work any more fun — instead, it lets work eat into our free time.

Bettmann / Getty Images

Employers from Goldman Sachs to the Golden Arches have relaxed or abandoned dress codes. Silicon Valley tech employees are famous for their hoodie sweatshirts and grey t-shirts. Sales of neckties and business suits are at all-time lows. Hourly wage jobs that used to enforce a bland, a clean cut middle-American uniformity, now allow staff to wear piercings, beards and tattoos.

Dress codes that allow casual and idiosyncratic clothing might seem to suggest a more relaxed and playful attitude toward work. But they really reflect the expectation that employees spend their nights and weekends working.

Well-dressed Black activists were not trying to impress White people

People at the 1963 Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C. Photo: Warren K. Leffler via the Library of Congress

A 2020 South Carolina march against police violence had a dress code. The organizers asked that demonstrators “come in dress attire, please”. Later, they boasted that the thousands-strong crowd had been “fully adorned in their Sunday best.” Not everyone was impressed. Many thought the dress code was a distraction from the life-and-death issues of police violence and racial injustice. Or worse, an example of “respectability politics” — a pointless and pathetic attempt to impress bourgeois White people. One commentator remarked, “This business-casual nonsense is just begging to be accepted by a system that was never built for us. …

Why are men celebrated as stylish and women belittled as fashion victims?

1Sean Connery on Savile Row. Credit: United Artists/Getty Images.

Fashion-conscious men, with very few exceptions, do not admit that they are fashion-conscious. Even men who write exuberant and informative essays on the details of tailoring, shoes and leather goods for blogs and magazines dedicated to clothing deny that they are interested in fashion. Instead, most fashionable men set up a dogmatic distinction between fashion and style. Fashion consists of outlandish garments concocted by egocentric designers with French and Italian names and peddled by rapacious businesses. It is the domain of hairdressers, obsequious department store salespeople and, of course, women. Style, by contrast, involves the skillful combination of practical and…

Ascetic Athleisure, Extravagant Couture, or Curated Classic Tailoring?

Gabriella Clare Marino on Upsplash

As we look forward to emerging from over a year of forced hibernation, the fashion conscious and the fashion averse alike speculate about what we will wear once we get out and about. As one would expect in our troubled and polarized nation, two opposing camps have emerged, which I will style as the ascetics and the aesthetes.

The ascetics maintain that a year of virtuous isolation and productive remote work on Zoom will cure us, once and for all, of our vanity and our unhealthy addiction to wasteful and frivolous fashion. Society will embrace the simple virtues of practical…

Richard Thompson Ford

Professor. Lawyer. Dilettante mixologist. Amateur sartorialist. Watch geek. Author of Dress Codes: how the laws of fashion made history. www.dresscodes.org

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