Turn of the century
At the turn of the century, British managers were toning things down from their Victorian counterparts. This led to the introduction of formal and rigid three-piece suits topped off with either a bowler or top hat.
The coat would depend very much on the time of the day, with morning coats worn up until midday and lounge suits until 6pm.
The three-piece suit made way for a more stylish two piece in the 1930s. The V-shaped suit – tapering off from the shoulders to the waist – was much more popular. While suits were de rigueur for offices, outside things were becoming more relaxed with ties now an option, not a necessity and cardigans replacing suit jackets.
Flat caps were becoming popular among the working class and younger generation, though more traditional headwear would still be found in offices.
Following the Second World War, Britain still lived in a world of rationing, which was reflected in the sombre, simple clothing of the era. More formal suits and ties were favoured in the office, possibly inspired by war uniforms. The grey flannel suit was the go-to option.
The Mad Man look we now associate with the 50s hadn’t quite made it across to the UK, but this decade did see the introduction of ‘Casual Friday’. It was an attempt to boost worker morale in white-collar offices but didn’t really take off until the 1970s.
One of the major breakthroughs of this decade was jeans. While they had been around for some decades as working class clothing, they started to creep into the middle classes in the 60s and even some office environments.
In general, things got a lot more laid back and colourful than in the 50s. Tailoring was more relaxed and ambitious, adding frills and ornamentation not seen since the Victorian dandies. Flares and wide lapels were also making themselves noticed in the work place.
With the rise of the Yuppies came the power suits. Everything about the decade was about excess and showing off your wealth – and fashion was no different. Double breasted, pin-striped suits with padded shoulders on both men and women were all the rage.
In less finance-based workplaces, suits came in a variety of colours – preferably with sleeves rolled up - while denim was much more common in more relaxed offices.
In the early years of the decade, the 80s power suits were still apparent, but attitudes soon changed as ‘Cool Britannia’ arrived.
It was the decade when the ‘smart casual’ style kicked in. Many offices became more laid-back with their choice of clothing and a whole new style developed. Gone were the suits and in came casual Gap shirts, plain chinos and maybe a jumper.
A new century brought new rules – suits were what your Dad wore. The tech boom brought with it a whole new type of worker who was less interested in fashion. All this combined to bring less formal clothing rules – jeans, t-shirts and trainers were often spotted around the office.
Big name CEOs like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and later Mark Zuckerberg, were often seen in casual clothing, while the hipster was just starting to get going in London.