A few days ago, Ithaca hosted its first Fashion week and as I strolled downtown, I encountered all sorts of enthusiastic fashionistas. Two women were sketching designs with chalk on the sidewalk, a runway rehearsal was happening at Dewitt Mall, and I thought people in general looked quite stylish. But what does clothing have to do with books?
When it comes to men’s fashion and the workplace, the research presented in Buttoned Up, by author Erynn Masi de Casanova, can help understand this relationship. Casual Fridays is an institution, telecommuting is sometimes the rule, and a decrease in formal dress codes is evident. And even though many workplaces now encourage a business casual dress code, men high on the food chain tend to prefer the traditional two-piece suit. The Boston Globe pointed out that the homogeneity in men’s work attires throughout decades shows this conformism. So why do men feel constrained in their choices about how to look professional?
Masi de Casanova interviews dozens of men in three US cities with distinct local dress cultures—New York, San Francisco, and Cincinnati—and asks what it means to wear the white collar now. Her findings suggest that, aside from recent changes in gender expectations, the suit lingers as a symbol of status, gender, and class privilege.
The Conversation argued that “stereotypical men, especially older men, are thought not to actively engage with fashionable clothing.” And regardless of the incipient niche market that seem to be willing to challenge this assumption, a quick peek into the most well-known fashion shows can prove that the target for male fashion garments is overwhelmingly, young men.
Finally, the Harvard Business Review asked the crucial question: What happens when men don’t conform to masculine clothing norms at work? It turns out that when picking out an outfit, most men fear that crossing gender boundaries and traditional clothing norms will pose identity dilemmas and ultimately, lead to conflict.
All in all, men are happy to strategically blend in when it comes to dressing up for a job, the freedom provided by the business casual code resulting in anxiety. So how can we turn the tables? How to foster workplaces that allow for their male employees to express themselves, and how to get rid of traditional ideas of masculine power? Buttoned Up provides with an interesting insight into men’s feelings and explains why when at work, they embody the idea that “fashion is not really for us”.
Check out the latest review for this book!
Recommended watch for this post: Dr. Ben Barry’s “The Refashioning Masculinity Project”:
About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is originally from Uruguay and often wonders how she ended up in Upstate New York. Her dream is to own an ice-cream shop. She doesn’t have Wi-Fi at home.