From Ties To T-Shirts; Decoding The Evolution Of Menswear At Work
From Ties To T-Shirts; Decoding The Evolution Of Menswear At Work

The current generation is breaking workwear norms—one hoodie at a time

There’s a silent war raging in the offices of corporate India. On one end we have millennials, older millennials and whatever is left of boomers, each equally pressed about the changing work culture, as their clothes. On the other hand, we have Gen-Z, who have traded in shirts and ties for extra, extra oversized clothes and pants baggy enough to pitch an impromptu tent.


But why has the culture of clean-cut, clean-shaved, well-groomed office aesthetics taken the shape of something resembling a crowd that waits for Happy Hours at the bars? “The pandemic has intensified the trend of casualising fashion, particularly with the rise of remote work. The relaxed work environment has led to increased leniency in dress codes, resulting in a lack of clear guidelines. This has caused a variety of inappropriate attire choices in the office space. While embracing a casual Friday style is acceptable, wearing an oversized printed T-shirt to work, in my opinion, is entirely inappropriate,” says stalwart designer Ashish Soni, who for the last 25 years has championed sleek tailoring that’s cut to perfection.



Countering this argument is the athleisure brand XYXX—whose offerings were donned by Orry, the mascot of Gen Z culture. “Lifestyle clothing is the future, with Gen Z viewing fashion as an extension of their personality. The surge in ‘oversized and shapeless’ garments reflects the younger generation’s shift toward a ‘woke’ fashion era, rejecting brands with gender-specific clothing. Baggy fits are gender-fluid, providing a versatile escape and pairing well with flares, low waistbands, and wide legs,” says Harshal Panchal, Product Designer at XYXX.


While both Soni’s and Panchal’s comments allude to fashion being subjective like cinema and music, it is often influenced by the current zeitgeist. And whatever is popular culture today, there will always be some counter-culture elements to it, much like Newton’s third law of motion. It is the ever-moving game of Jenga that one needs to notice. Back in the 80s, fashion was at its loudest; it was “at its most affluent and extravagant—bold, brash, and shouting to be noticed. Only a still small voice of calm was speaking a different language. Instead of excess, there was distressed cloth,” writes Suzy Menkes, a world-renowned fashion journalist and veteran of the industry, in her preface note for the Kaat Debo book, “Margiela. Hermès Years.”


Still from HBO’s Succession. Credits – Jio Cinema


And while Martin Margiela dedicated the next decade at Hermès (1997 to 2003), emphasizing the fabric and the cut, partly popularizing what “quite luxury” stands at today, there was yet another counter-culture forming in the mid to late 2000s. Bringing “anti-fashion” elements through the rise of streetwear, a sub-genre of fashion which has been around for three decades but found its popularity in the past ten years through designers like the late Virgil Abloh with Off-White and Louis Vuitton, and Demna with his time at Vetements and currently at Balenciaga.


But the Indian perspective towards fashion is a little more heavy-handed than this. What Panchal describes is the rejection of the suit-tie aesthetic, which many view as a remnant of a colonial hangover that emphasized class hierarchy. It’s not difficult to find examples of this; visit any 9-to-5 workplace in the country, and you’ll be able to distinguish between the ranks visually. It is this norm that Gen Z wants to break, as per Aditya Rathod, a 22-year-old Social Media executive who works in a Digital Agency in Mumbai. For Rathod, the “dress code” has never made any sense, saying, “If my work is getting done within time and with the required quality, why does it matter what I wear?”



Yet a few, like Shruti, a 26-year-old, finance professional in an investment bank, in India, feel that there needs to be a distinction for conventional settings. “Dressing at work varies depending on the workplace type. Traditional settings such as law firms, banks, and consulting firms require a more ‘proper’ attire to convey professionalism and establish trust with stakeholders. This formal dress code suggests reliability and accountability.”


Perhaps, it is the balance between the two that needs to be found, as a 29-year-old, Aparna, who works for Viacom India writes, “I do occasionally wear ripped jeans and a hoodie or a Kurta and sneakers to work. That’s probably as far as I’m able to keep up with Gen Z when it comes to office wear clothing. But more importantly, I’m comfortable wearing it to the office. I believe that for a more serious official occasion, such as a presentation or an internal/external work meeting, semi-casual/formal attire should be the way to go, as it sets the tone for the occasion. Besides, office ACs always create a Tundra zone, so a crisp shirt and trousers help.”


Still from HBO’s Succession. Credits – Jio Cinema


But it isn’t just about sending the message Gen Zs are trying to do today. A casual approach to work also has a significant emphasis on comfort, as Panchal states: “Nowadays, many see comfort as the essence of fashion, and style as a personal expression. People aim to find pieces that seamlessly transition from day to night, allowing them to express themselves uniquely. Microtrends are emerging, such as wearing a dinner jacket with jeans or pairing a fanny pack with a dress shirt, breaking away from traditional ‘style’ categories.”


Not to mention, gender-neutral clothing is now a visual mark of how inclusive a modern-day workplace is. Yet, Soni feels there should be some distinction between professionalism, “Androgyny and age-relevant streetwear influences are welcome but seeing 50-year-old men dressing like teenagers makes me feel a bit awkward. Whether this trend will endure indefinitely, I can’t say, but I foresee it evolving into a buy-less, buy-better era once the dust settles down.”


Still from HBO’s Succession. Credits – Jio Cinema


So, how should you dress if you feel like Switzerland between the two warring generations? As per Soni, who is “not a big fan of the oversized trend and certainly not an advocate,” states the balance can indeed be found through experimentation, just as he does on most days, “I frequently wear a hoodie (not baggy, of course) with a suit and sneakers. The tie has unfortunately become obsolete, and many people feel perfectly comfortable donning a V-neck t-shirt even with a formal suit.”


When it comes to the bigger picture, though, perhaps the upcoming Gen Alpha would start moving the Jenga pieces along to the sides of more quiet office looks after Gen Zs are done with their loud proclamations, and the cycle will continue.

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