In 2016, part-time receptionist Nicola Thorp was sent home by her supervisor after arriving at work in flat shoes. She was told that anything below ‘two-inches of heel’ was ‘unacceptable.’ When she refused to comply with such rules, she was sent home from accounting firm PwC without pay.
Since Nicola’s story broke headlines, the issue of workwear – particularly womens’ workwear – has gathered momentum, with Nicola and 150,000 women petitioning for a law against compulsory gendered uniforms. The UK government rejected a change in the current legislation, but did propose to change dress code guidelines. Regardless, Nicola’s story has stirred up huge backlash. Women took to Twitter, posting photos of their alternative workwear that defied gendered regulations.
At a quick Google search of ‘workwear,’ all results apply gender labels to the word: ‘Women’s workwear’ and ‘Ladies Smart Clothing’ flash up in large block letters.
Google’s algorithm may not have caught up yet, but workwear has been pushed beyond the confines of the suit, blazer, pencil skirt, high heels, and so on. As students, we are poised as the next generation to enter the workplace. Whilst the familiar office-wear silhouettes are far from disappearing, the movement in breaking down gender barriers has already begun. The style and form of power outfits is already changing: Captain Marvel, due for release this April, sees the distinct, tight-fit silhouette of the superhero suit reappropriated for Marvel Studios’ first female lead. This January, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman to join the United States Congress, often recognised as an embodiment of anti-corporate politics and previously-overlooked female power. Hopefully, this will be a ripple-effect that extends into everyday office-wear. In a nod to these prospects, Cherwell Fashion explores androgynous workwear in a celebration of its liberating and empowering potential.