The latest launch of the space shuttle Discovery was a grand occasion on many accounts. All eyes were mostly watching the countdown and takeoff, which ended a more than two-year wait for a return to manned spaceflights.
But did anyone notice all those neckties and slacks in mission control?
Newspapers, fashion magazines and online publications have documented the rise of the less formal Gap and J. Crew wear adopted by employees in many offices across the country. The wellgroomed Brooks Brothers look has virtually disappeared from many a workplace.
But after seeing the mission launch, is it possible that American offices are returning to the formalities of yesteryear?
The answer is . . . sometimes.
‘‘It was a media event,’’ said Dwayne Brown of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. ‘‘Media events, you will see shirts and ties. It gives that more official look.’’
A variety of industries across the country play the same game NASA does: When in the public eye or meeting with a client, employees may put on a tie, high heels or a button-down shirt. But behind closed doors is a different story. Ties? Forget about it, some industry insiders say. Jeans? Why not?
‘‘It has been casual, and it’s going to be,’’ said Andrea Kay, a career coach based in Cincinnati who has three published books on careers and the workplace.
‘‘It seems people are dressing down in all areas of life, and the rules in the workplace are accommodating that,’’ Kay said.
Blame the 1990s. The simple idea of dress-down Friday turned a nation of pinstripetoting men and dress-clad women into denim-wearing workers, Kay said. Like dominoes, businesses followed each other in adopting the relaxed dress code for Friday, and the trend soon spread to Monday through Thursday in many places.
NASA’s 10 centers throughout the country have relaxed dress codes, Brown said. But employees in the Washington headquarters often attend meetings in the White House or on Capitol Hill, and they usually dress in suits.
‘‘NASA has relaxed its dress code for quite some time,’’ Brown said. ‘‘Capitol Hill, White House, media functions, it’s recommended that we dress appropriately.’’
The laid-back attitude has pushed its way into a variety of industries.
Denny Johnson, public-affairs coordinator for the American Planning Association, said sometimes town and city planners feel like dressing up, and sometimes they don’t. ‘‘If they’re appearing in public or going out, they’re going to have business dress,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘If they’re in the back room working on maps, they’re going to have on casual clothes.’’
In some industries, proper business attire is required, especially for lawyers and bankers, Kay said.
Despite the occasional suit, the workplace as a whole, Kay said, is experiencing a fashion and professional downturn.
‘‘In many places, it’s to the point where it’s unprofessional — flip-flops, that kind of thing,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s accelerated to that it’s almost a lack of decorum.’’