Why the smart manager is getting smarter

Jul 10 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

If you walk the streets of almost any large town or city these days, chances are that a minority of men will be wearing ties and even fewer women will be in business suits. So is the razor sharp suit and tie combination becoming a thing of the past?

A poll of more than 200 senior managers by executive consultancy Aziz Corporation has suggested that nowadays fewer than a quarter of workers are required to wear a suit to the office, compared with more than a third four years ago.

Fashion experts have also described the sawn-off shorts suit essentially a suit with shorts instead of trousers as the "bold fashion statement" of this year, with retailers such as Top Shop reporting that, even with this summer's cold, wet weather in the UK, they are flying off the shelves.

And when even Japan's current Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda ditches his suit and tie in favour of a lightweight short-sleeved shirt, is it time to sound the death-knell of the conventional suit and tie combination?

Well, yes and no, according to Dan Murray, managing director of corporate clothing specialist de Baer.

While there has definitely been a drift in the past few years towards more casual clothing within the workplace, the gloomier economic picture might, if anything, be sending the trend back in the other direction.

"What we are tending to see among some of our clients is a move back towards a smarter, more structured approach when it comes to clothing," he said.

There is some evidence to back this up. Tie retailers, for example, have been reporting booming sales in the past three months, with Tie Rack posting a 10 per cent rise in sales and John Lewis an 18 per cent rise, as people smarten up their appearance.

This is a direct response to the downturn and credit crunch, they argue, with people desperately trying to make the best impression in an effort either to hang on to an existing job or land a new one in a much tougher jobs' market.

Firms are also recognising that office wear can even be an important tool in the battle to keep and recruit key staff, argued Murray.

"Companies want people to feel comfortable doing their job. For some firms it is more important that their workers are comfortable, and therefore working productively, than it is whether they are wearing a shirt and tie," he said.

"But then for others the image they present to the public is equally important," he added.

Whatever the overall trend, one thing is clear, argued Aziz Corporation chairman Khalid Aziz. In the UK at least, while office wear may be becoming more casual, there is still some way to go before we all find ourselves in T-shirts, jeans and trainers.

Its research found two thirds of those polled considered "smart casual" to be the most appropriate dress code for everyday wear.

A completely casual dress code allowing staff to wear whatever they want, including jeans or trainers was rejected even among those whose offices that had such a code, it found.

Two thirds of employees who were allowed to dress casually at work in fact disagreed with this policy, and only six per cent considered it appropriate to dress casually for business meetings.

"Far from wishing they could get away with ripped jeans and T-shirts, most employees take their professional image at work very seriously and will dress smartly by choice," said Aziz.

"However, there is no longer a perception that we have to wear suits in order to be smart. Enforcing a suits-only dress code is seen as outdated and perhaps a little insular in an increasingly international workplace, an image which savvy modern companies want to steer clear of.

"Suits are best saved for business meetings where a very formal appearance is desirable," he added.