Are dress codes necessary for work? India’s women entrepreneurs tell us
Thanks to its friendly eco-system for startups, India is emerging as the land of women entrepreneurs. At least that’s what a recent study carried out by Yale University as per ‘Business Today’ seems to convey, where it is stated that 40 per cent of India’s start-ups belong to women.
Which leads us to one of the most discussed and debated aspects of life for India’s working women: What to wear to work. Indian men have taken the conservative route, sticking to western formals, or at least a casual version of formals without the blazer and tie. But women are freer to dress either in traditional outfits or in western, and can sometimes be really conflicted about what constitutes suitable work wear.
For women in a corporate environment, the decision is often easier; formals are the way to go. But whether that means Indian or western depends on the company’s work culture, according to Roshni Pereira, executive assistant to the MD of a media and digital company. “I prefer to dress formally,” says Pereira, referring to western wear. “The budget is usually not a constraint, but I do tend to make my decisions based on the work culture or the current office trend.”
For Anne Paul, manager of a Cochin-based outsourcing company, the work wear code has been made simple. It is laid down by the firm. “The dress code at the office is strictly churidar kurtas, collared shirts and trousers or saris,” she says. “I usually wear collared kurtas with minimal accessories. The hairdo also helps you look professional.”
Sometimes, clothes can be more than clothes. They can be armour
What to wear to work may not seem very important, but there’s a reason for the existence of the ‘clothes make the (wo)man’ proverb. Sometimes, clothes can be more than clothes. They can be armour, or they make an upfront statement about their wearer that cannot be mistaken.
“I like to dress formally for everyday office but for special days and meetings, I dress in formal office suits which make me feel powerful and in control,” says Chetnaa Karnani, CEO of Market Concepts, Kolkata.
Different industries have different standards, and women who own businesses that are not strictly corporate dress the way they need to.
For instance, while baker Sneha Singhi, owner-chef of Kolkata’s Paris Café, needs to show her customers that she takes her business seriously, she also spends much of her working day bent over a hot stove, which means she needs to dress appropriately. “My style when I go to work consists of loosely fitted shirts and formal pants,” explains Singhi. “I wear lightweight, loose fitting clothes so I can work freely in the kitchen.”
“India’s ideas of work wear are very different from what prevails in western nations”, says Meghna Bhutoria, Kolkata-based owner of Workshop Maker’s Loft, who worked in Switzerland and the USA before settling down in India. “There, work wear is necessarily formal, or at least professional depending on the industry. But Indians are a little more casual in how they project themselves”, believes Bhutoria, who prefers the relaxed approach herself.
“At work, I dress casually,” she says. “It makes me feel home and comfortable as I take care of what’s going on in my workshop.”
In that sense, Indian women are lucky. By and large, when it comes to work wear, we have choices and a certain amount of freedom that is not available in the west – or even to Indian men.
What do you think is the best work ensemble? Do share your views in the comments section below.