Dressing Up For Work Helps Parents Draw Boundaries

In a time when the line between work and home life becomes blurrier by the day, It's important to have something that helps you create a separation between the two.

Last week, investment company Goldman Sachs announced that it would be doing away with its famously buttoned up dress code. While the company memo from Goldman CEO David Solomon informing employees of this change was vague about what the new sartorial standards would be — it only mentioned that it would be a “firm, wide flexible dress code” and that “all of us know what is an is not appropriate for the workplace” — one thing was obvious: the memo was a clear play for younger employees who don’t want to be boxed in by tailored suits, silk ties, and handcrafted wing tips.

Many covered this news. Esquire used it as an opportunity to forecast and lament fact that this would make the fleece vest the de-facto office uniform of business casual business bros, while GQ discussed how this move marked the end of an era for the fancy Wall Street uniform that’s burned into so many psyches. Other sites applauded the company, one of the last holdouts of the old-school office uniform, for getting on with the modern times.

It’s a good thing that Goldman is loosening its tie. The majority of offices in the U.S. offer a casual dress code, which is more affordable, comfortable, and personal. For men, it often means nice jeans and button downs. That’s my preferred style of dress, too. But as our society continues to preach work-ism and work-life balance becomes more of a balancing act, the cynic in me can’t help but see flexible dress codes as just another way to further blur the line between the office and home, a line that grows blurrier by the day. And for parents in particular, office clothes serve as a way to mentally compartmentalize work and home.

In a 2016 writer Stephanie Vozza, who worked from home, wore dress clothes for a week to see how it affected her productivity and general balance. In her subsequent article for Fast Company, Vozza pointed to a number of studies that explained the positive effects of a work uniform. In addition to explaining how it helps you maintain an air of professionalism and boost productivity, Vozza noted how a work uniform helps you set boundaries. She quoted Mason Donovan, author of The Golden Apple: Redefining Work-Life Balance for a Diverse Workforce, who told her “when I change into casual clothes, it’s a physical and visual distinction, and it helps me set boundaries. Otherwise you could feel like work never ends. Your personal life could take over work time or your work commitments can take over personal time. Clothing helps create a distinct separation.”

I floated the question of whether or not a work uniform, whether mandated by an office or themselves, to a few dads. Several of them corroborated Donovan’s claim. “My office has a pretty casual dress code and I took full advantage of it for my first few months with the company. But I realized that I was having a hard time distinguishing ‘work me’ and ‘home me,’” says Stephen, a 41-year-old father of two who lives in Cincinnati. “Eventually, started wearing a button down and jeans most days — still kind of casual — and realized that changing out of that outfit and into regular home clothes helped me realize I was off the clock with my family and emails and other things could wait.”

Henry, who has three kids and works from his home outside Washington D.C., said that before having children his work outfit was most often sweatpants, mesh shorts, and loose t-shirts. “One of the big perks of working from home was that I could do whatever needed to be done without feeling like I was in an office,” he said. “But as soon as I had kids, I realized that needed to change because I had to feel like I was working and also let my family know that I was working.:” This, Henry adds, helped him become more efficient and not feel like he was always “ping-ponging back and forth from one thing to the other.”

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Maintaining a proper work-life balance is one of the more difficult tasks a modern parent must accomplish. Hell, studies show that American society as a whole is one of the worst examples of healthy work life balance in the world. It’s up to all of us to set up firm boundaries. And without a proper line of demarcation set up to help you mentally distinguish between dad and desk-worker, it can be even more difficult. An office uniform, whether its mandated by your company or by yourself, can be of great benefit here.

This is all, of course, a matter of perspective. Some others I spoke to said office uniforms are just one part of the puzzle.

“I wear a suit every day and it doesn’t do anything but make me annoyed that I have to wear a suit every day,” said Kevin, a father of one in Chicago

“I’m an adult and can figure out the work me and home me without some weird corporate dictum holding me hostage,” said Chris, a 27 year old dad who lives in Boston.

Said Brian, a 34-year-old father of two who lives outside of New York City: “I think your attire would be a superficial reason to feel different between work and home life,” said Brian, a 34-year-old father of two who lives outside of New York. “Also, if you work somewhere where you what to feel different between work and home, I’d question if that’s a good place to work. The best workplaces today are those that embrace the real you.”

Brian poses a different question altogether. And until all of us can find work that respects our boundaries, perhaps the best thing to do is to be conscious of the things we can do to draw firmer ones ourselves.