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Dressing for Work – Women Across Generations

As part of our TechWeek24 Women Across Generations series, Meg Ryan shares a look at the evolving office dress code in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Dressing for Work as Gen Z 

When I was offered my first corporate job after graduation, my first thoughts other than ‘thank god!’ was ‘I need to go shopping!’ I went to Glasson’s and brought one pair of black dress pants and then hit the op shops to find more appropriate corporate clothing at a cheaper price. I brought this hideous turquoise poker dot blouse because I felt it would make me look the part. It then stayed in my closet for a year before I re-donated it to an op shop. It was a statement piece that, while never worn, sparked a realisation that Gen Z don’t have to sacrifice personal style to still look professional.

Being a Gen Z and shifting from university to being a young adult entering the workplace is scary. So, we dress a certain way to try and fit in. As the saying goes ‘fake it till you make it!’ We already have imposter syndrome, but we want to put on a front that we don’t, and how do we do that? By dressing confidently and mirroring how we see others in that environment dress.

Just because we can’t wear jandals to work doesn’t mean corporate fashion can’t be stylish or reflective of our personality. During school, we all woke up and chucked on our school uniform and that was that. Maybe you haven’t realised it, but we still wear a uniform, the corporate uniform. What is it exactly?

Thankfully, it’s no longer a full-suit or long dresses and heels. Corporate fashion has really relaxed with time. Growing up and observing older women navigate the corporate world in their attire, it’s clear that the expectations in workplace fashion have changed significantly. 

In 2024, corporate fashion has embraced a blend of comfort and style that is reflective of the flexible nature of the modern workplace. People have the choice whether they would like to dress up or down for work. Requiring comfort has become one of the biggest changes with corporate fashion and we can thank the uprise in activewear and the pandemic for that. Bless the day we replaced high heels with sneakers.

The evolution of corporate fashion mirrors the dynamic changes in the workplace and the workforce itself. Gone are the days of stiff suits and uncomfortable shoes, replaced by a more relaxed and authentic style that allows individuality. For the Gen Z workforce, this transition means the freedom to express one’s identity without compromising on professionalism. 

Corporate fashion for Gen Z consists of black, white, grey and neutral tones with little pops of colour. Many will opt for a plain and sleek look for work but in true Gen Z style it is really about expressing yourself. Gen Z are the definition of ‘corporate casual’. Like the millennials we take a lot of inspiration from the 90s and are still wearing blazers. Hair is usually in a middle parting or slicked back also known as ‘clean girl aesthetic’.

Let’s now take a trip back in time and have a look at the office dress codes and style choices of each generation. 

Dressing for Work as Gen X

Ah what a fun dressing period! Late 80’s, into the 90’s. Make it BIG, make it LOUD, make it COLOURFUL, make it weird! I just missed Working Girl (a movie about women entering male corporate roles) and 9-5 (where women want to be more than secretaries and start being management). I was very much a member of the “Friends” corporate look. Huge jackets, huge shoulder pads, brown eyeshadow, brown lipstick, pencil skirt and high heels. I am so glad that Gen Z and Covid have blessed us with chucking out high heels and tights (who invented them horrible things?) and wearing fashionable, comfortable sneakers. 

THANK YOU Millennials and GEN Z for realising we don’t do business with our feet. But also a shout out to Working Girls Melanie Griffith and Joan Cusack for the best hairstyles ever. GenX, the generation responsible for putting a hole in the ozone layer because of all the hairspray.

 – Amanda Watson

Dressing for Work as Millennials

Ah, the Millennials! A generation influenced by tech startups and social media. We are a lot about minimalism, but let’s face it, we also can’t resist a pop of bright colour. We took the formal Gen X’s blazer, threw in some blue jeans, and topped it off with sneakers. Who says business casual can’t have a hint of “I’m ready for a rooftop party”? 

And skinny jeans? Oh yeah, we did and still wear those a lot, maybe a bit too much. Leather pants or a biker jacket? Sure, as long as they don’t squeak too much when we move around the office. We’re all about that “effortlessly” cool look and vibe, even if it takes us hours to pick it out.
– Vanessa Leite

By Meg Ryan

TechWomen TechWomen is a group of passionate New Zealand tech, digital and ICT focused individuals from leading organisations that work together, with the support of NZTech, to help address the shortage of women in tech roles.