How workwear for women has evolved over time

How workwear for women has evolved over time

These days, there is increasing recognition of the need to maintain equality in working environments, and ensure that women entering sectors once dominated by men are provided with the same rights as their male counterparts. While it’s acknowledged that workwear has become much more inclusive, this wasn’t the case historically. To celebrate Rokwear’s range of safety wear specifically designed for women, we’re going to explore the history of female workwear over the years.

The early years of female workwear

In the early 1900s, women were allowed to keep their own wages for the very first time. Their workwear tended to be defined by the type of role each person had. As the main source of employment for women was domestic service, work outfits were mandated by the employer, and afforded little opportunity for self expression. For women employed in factory work, there was slightly more scope to show individuality, as they could wear patterned shirts, and coloured stockings.

In World War One, those females employed to create munitions were governed by strict dress codes when at work. Despite the restrictions, women found ways to enhance their uniform through coloured bandanas and ribbons used as boot laces.

A gradual movement towards greater choice

After WW1, fashion for women started to evolve a little, but it was slow to influence a more relaxed style for uniform and workwear. The symbolism entrenched within styles of uniform emerged at this point, with specific fashions in place depending upon the type of job being undertaken. In the 1920s, women working as nursing staff or waitresses had very established styles which marked them out by trade.

By the time of the Second World War, society was reluctant to provide uniforms for women, as the military was associated with masculinity. Therefore, female uniforms were distinctly feminine, to ensure that the gender division was reinforced, even as society went through the challenges of war.  

Moving into the 1960s and beyond

By the 1960s, working women were restricted by rules for female fashion, even while there were often no explicit codes for workwear. Many women were perturbed at the idea of investing in a specific dress code for their roles – to the extent that some felt it was not viable to work, as so much of their earned income would be required to develop a corporate wardrobe. Women were expected to invest significantly in their appearance, with coiffed hair, manicures and more being prerequisite to succeed in working environments.

These days, there is far greater equality in terms of the freedoms afforded to women in the working environment. The corporate suit is now a stalwart for both sexes, and female workers are able to develop work wardrobes with freedom. However, the Vice President of City Women Network, Uma Cresswell, states that in some sectors such as banking, there is still pressure upon women to adopt a certain dress code, to retain credibility – regardless of the individual’s merit in the role: “It was very formal, a very command-and-control culture. Trousers were frowned upon. It was always suits, there were no dress-down days – it was just unheard of.”

The future of female workwear

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, many business sectors have made a shift towards a more remote working approach, which will inevitably have an impact upon dress codes for workwear. Similar impacts upon traditional work clothing for females will also evolve, as STEM industries continue to push back against the concept of ‘male’ sectors, and attract an increasing number of women into sectors such as construction, science and other industries most commonly considered to be masculine.

At Rokwear, we want to support our female customers by ensuring that we provide comfortable work attire, designed for the modern woman. You can check out our range of clothing created collaboratively with our female customers, here.

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