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What India wears to work

LiveMint logoLiveMint 28-03-2017 Sakshi Gupta

New Delhi: Less than a year after Vishal Sikka became chief executive officer at Infosys Ltd, he relaxed the ‘dress code’ for the 176,000 employees the company had. Starting 1 June 2015, jeans and T-shirts were allowed on week days at the offices of Infosys. Rivals ike Wipro Ltd, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd and Cognizant Technology Solutionjs Corp. relaxed the norms and allowed jeans at the workplace on Fridays.

Even before Sikka relaxed the dress code, casuals had managed to sneak into offices round-the-week – thanks to start-ups or the new-age companies that employ a few hundred thousand who believe in working in comfortable clothing.

Not just at start-ups or companies engaged in information technology (IT) or business process outsourcing (BPO), jeans or denims have emerged as the most preferred outfit to work, at least in the non-government sectors, in India, according to a study conducted by Westside, a retail chain operated by Trent Ltd, a Tata group company.

More than 63.5% of the people surveyed by Westside said they prefer wearing jeans or denims everyday to work. And, this is not only the preference of people in their twenties. About 62% of working Indians above the age of 33 years voted for jeans as their favourite office-wear throughout the week, the study said.

The trend, however, is limited to the top cities. Westside surveyed 1,195 people, more than 53% of them above the age of 32 years, across Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Pune.

Preference for jeans as office wear was found to be higher in Delhi and Pune, while it was much lower in Chennai. More than 69% of respondents in Delhi and Pune opted for jeans over formals for office wear, whereas about 51% voted for denims to work in Chennai.

To be sure, most of the companies—excluding those in manufacturing, hospitality and legal—do not have written rules for mandatory office wear.

India’s largest telecom company Bharti Airtel Ltd, for instance, doesn’t ask questions if employees come to work clad in jeans on any workday. “It was different a few years ago. While we have never been told what to wear to work, people used to come in formals as there was a belief that the CEO does not like people in jeans at office. Things are relaxed now,” said an Airtel employee, requesting anonymity.

Cigarette-to-noodles maker ITC Ltd and Horlicks-maker GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare Ltd also do not tell their employees what to wear, except in the hospitality segment in the case of ITC. However, employees at these companies wear casuals to work only on Fridays.

Spokespersons at start-ups like payment solution firm Paytm, online marketplaces Flipkart and Snapdeal, ride-hailing service Ola confirmed that they do not have any set dress code for office and employees – both men and women – come in jeans any day they want to.

To leverage this, denim brands have started bringing more ‘sober’ style of jeans that can be termed smart-formal (not smart casual) in a market that is projected to reach Rs 27,200 crore, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 15%, by 2018, according to a study by retail consulting firm Technopak Advisors.

“Jeans have now become acceptable as office outfit as people find more comfort in denims due to good quality or stretch of jeans. We have a ‘Clean Washes’ range that is clear, unripped and suited better for office,” said Pepe Jeans India chief executive officer Kavindra Mishra.

Spykar also has a separate line of jeans meant for office and formal parties. “Denim is the uniform of youth. With more millennials in the workforce, companies are becoming more flexible towards work outfit,” said Sanjay Vakharia, chief operating officer, Spykar.

Wrangler marketing head Rohini Haldea agrees. Millennials look for flexibility and comfort at work and denims get a preference, she added. “Now jeans come in varieties for different occasions, designed for more comfort and ease to spend whole day in it,” said Haldea.

Ankur Bisen, senior vice president Technopak, however, believes wearing jeans to work is yet to become a widespread culture in India. “What you wear in office is driven by office policies. There are sectors, and companies, where you are bound to wear uniforms, such as hospitals, hotels and manufacturing firms. While e-commerce firms take more relaxed approach, investment banking firms and lawyers are still asked to come in proper formals to work,” Bisen added.

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