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“Everything was better in the old days.” So not true. As little as ten years ago, there were a lot of professions with work clothes designed for men only. Clothing for female staff was not taken into account, especially in technical positions. Women who practiced these professions had to wear clothes designed for the opposite sex. So pants which fitted at the waist were too tight at the hips. The alternative was to go for a larger size, perfect on the hips but too loose on the waist.
A development to applaud
We are now a few years further and a few years wiser. More and more workwear producers now have a line for women. It’s still early days and a lot of collections consist of only ten to twenty percent women’s clothing. But it is a start, and progress is being made. As more women move into industries previously dominated by men, more women’s workwear will be available. Industries will have little choice. If they don’t offer women’s clothing, they will lose customers. Especially if the competitor is offering female-friendly options. Consider, for example, maternity clothing for women in technical professions. There are more and more companies focusing exclusively on women’s workwear.
I can only applaud this development. Simply put, men and women have different bodies and need different clothes. But now a new trend has emerged, gender neutral corporate clothing.
Not female or male, but non-binary
It was Justin Wetherell who recently made headlines by drawing attention to this. The female-born employee had to wear women’s clothing while working as a flight attendant at Alaska Airlines. Wetherell disagreed because she doesn’t identify as a woman or a man, but non-binary.
The American Civil Liberties Union, an organization that promotes the rights of American citizens, ruled that it is illegal to force employees to wear male or female corporate attire. Subsequently, several organizations, including an Icelandic airline (PLAY) and a theater in London, launched gender neutral corporate clothing.
It all sounds very hip and modern. Gender neutral corporate clothing is nicely inclusive and therefore accessible to everyone. But gender neutral corporate clothing is not without problems. Problems similar to those of ten years ago, when women had to settle for men’s clothing. By not taking different body shapes into account, you take away one of the most important functions of corporate clothing, namely: safety. Providing employees with proper clothing enables them to carry out their work safely. And ill-fitting clothing is more likely to get in the way and thus make the work more difficult. With all the associated safety risks.
If we take the gender neutral clothing of airline PLAY as an example, it is mainly straight lines. This style does not work for a lot of bodies, certainly not on feminine curves.
Gender neutral company clothing is a step backward
Gender neutral workwear has one advantage, and that is it saves the employer money. It is no longer necessary to think about the (female) body because everyone can wear the same. Nice and easy but definitely a step back in time. Goodbye support, appearance, and comfort. If you really want to be there for your employees, it is better to adjust the selection. Let men and women choose for themselves which corporate clothing they want to wear. If someone prefers to combine a masculine blazer with feminine trousers, that’s fine. Because everyone and every body is different. It’s time to respect this.