Apr 4, 2022 - Economy

GM CEO Mary Barra's two-word dress code still applies

GM CEO Mary Barra

Mary Barra. Photo: Getty Images/ Drew Angerer

Back when General Motors CEO Mary Barra was an HR executive at the automaker, she revised the dress code from several pages to two words: Dress appropriately.

  • Back then there was some agreement on what that meant.

Why it matters: Now as people slowly return to the office, there's confusion. Many grew accustomed to elastic waistbands; we haven't buttoned or zipped pants in a while. There are big questions: Are sweatpants OK in an office? What if they're called joggers?

  • My editor (a queen, obviously) said I can wear whatever to the Axios office. But there are other managers who are confused, reports the WSJ. Dress codes are now "the elephant in the room in every workplace right now," one told the paper.

State of play: The time apart from the strictures of the office gave people the freedom to realize they didn't need to stuff themselves into a pair of tight shoes to do their jobs, accelerating a yearslong trend toward more casual office wear.

  • "Dressing however we wanted revealed there weren't any downstream costs to relaxing our idea of professional attire," said Erica Bailey, a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia Business School and co-author of a paper on pandemic business attire.

What's next: Everything is up in the air right now, but Bailey said letting workers figure out what's appropriate makes them feel more authentic and in turn more engaged at work. "There are so many benefits," she said. (I recommend you send this to your boss.)

Go deeper