Dear Fusion Money,
I started a new job this year. It's a professional environment, but the dress code is more casual than other places I've worked. As summer rolled in, I noticed a lot of people wearing shorts. When did that taboo get broken? I'm not uptight, but it's weird. I feel like I’m at summer camp in an office building.
I hate to tell you this, but the wear-shorts-to-work trend has been going on for quite awhile.
The New York Times “Style” section wrote about it in 2008. That's ordinarily a sign that a trend has jumped the shark, but the pro-shorts banter has only increased since then. Magazines ranging from Vogue to GQ addressed the issue this summer. It even spawned a Twitter hashtag recently: #freetheknee.
Statistics are elusive on how common workplace shorts have become, though. Some research exists on how attire affects behavior, and, for what it's worth, a "fashion psychologist" in Britain who wears some interesting accessories advises against dressing down.
Anecdotally, it seems fair to say that the frequency of office-shorts has risen. Workplace gurus chalk this up to the Silicon Valley effect: startups with hoodies and ping pong tables attract smart young workers who do innovative things. “Regular” companies are mimicking the laid-back atmosphere in hopes of replicating the results.
But in reality, it doesn’t work that way. A lumbering old company can’t just become The Next Facebook by loosening its dress code–nor can a local small business for that matter. And, as you point out, shorts-love isn’t universal among employees. Some feel uncomfortable just looking at people in shorts underneath those cold, hard fluorescent lights.
"With surface issues like casual dress, ping-pong tables, free lunch – we're seeing more momentum," said Lindsey Pollak, who advises companies on hiring young talent. "Industry to industry and company to company is very, very different, though. It's not appropriate for a lawyer to wear sweatpants into a court room."
Indeed, there are career paths in which wearing shorts will probably never be OK: law, as Pollak mentioned, as well as investment banking, butler service, Congress, or historical reenactments. If those don’t appeal to you, maybe it’s time to loosen up. There are worse problems than seeing a little more leg around the office.
$$$ This is Fusion Money’s advice column. The question has been edited for space and clarity. Here's last week's. If you have a question about money – making it, spending it, wasting it, investing it or giving it away – please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we may feature it in a future column. $$$
I oversee Fusion's money section and have spent most of my time as a journalist writing about banks and finance. I live in Brooklyn with my partner Geoffrey & our two dogs, Captain & Tallulah. Favs: leopard print, Diet Coke, gummy candy, Ireland.