According To Coco Chanel: Professional Dress Code in the Virtual World

Suit up or Unsuit?

The professional dress code has undergone significant changes since the onset of the global pandemic. Even before many professionals began working remotely, work attire had relaxed, at times inappropriately so. Now Zoom and other platforms have replaced much of the in-person meetings, becoming the norm for workers across many industries.

With the shift from in-person to online, some professionals have failed to remember or be concerned that they are still participating in work events evidenced by their inappropriate attire and appearance.

Read the Virtual Room

Although you may not be in the same room with those you interact with, professional standards still apply. As always, you should take cues from the situation and context. A judge will likely appear in a virtual hearing wearing a judicial robe or a suit (the “dress” of Judges has a storied past). Similarly, attorneys should dress as they would if they were going to the courthouse.  A coat, jacket, or other acceptable courtroom apparel is still required – at least for whatever part of you is visible to the camera. Even though you are not physically walking into a courtroom, the proceeding is official and formal, and it should be treated as such.

Likewise, if you are attending a Zoom business meeting, show your colleagues, counterparts, clients, or customers respect by wearing appropriate attire rather than appearing in dirty workout clothes with uncombed hair and an unwashed face. While the setting is often more relaxed than an in-person meeting in the office, no one wants to see you unkept and at your worst, and certainly not scantily clad. Stories of under dressed or undressed meeting participants are rampant, many times inadvertently, and unfortunately have resulted in real consequences for some.

When in Doubt, Overdress

Less formal dress generally had been trending before Covid-19 spread across the globe. There was a time when people dressed up to fly; now passengers often wear such casual clothing that closely resembles pajamas or may even be pajamas. It is not unusual to see people shopping or eating in restaurants in house slippers. Likewise, dress in the workplace has become increasingly more casual. The shift from formal to casual business clothes has been confirmed in the declining sales for retailers selling business clothes  over the past 18 months. Some may not make it through this change and have even filed for bankruptcy. Has the pandemic sealed the end of formal attire in the workplace? Unlikely.

Work environments may have dramatically changed in the past year and a half, but the value of presenting as a serious professional has not diminished. Look good, feel good still applies and empowering yourself through your presentation, including your choice of apparel, allows you to convey to your audience that you are serious, confident, and well-prepared. Don’t allow the changing forces to put you at a disadvantage. As Coco Chanel said, “Fashion changes, but style endures.” 

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