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Office dress has undertaken something of a shift during the upheavals of the last few years. Tim Skeet, a career banker in the City, wonders whether the suit-and-tie default is going the way of the dinosaurs. 

Many office workers, including City folk, have long since  ditched any kind of formal office attire. As the world grappled with Covid and we all leapt on the technology-powered ‘wfh’ bandwagon, the office itself has faded or even disappeared from some people’s lives. 

It seems now, even for those returning to the office, that dress convention has been inexorably altered by our brush with pestilence. Fashions change, and the suit and tie seem to have been fatally marginalised. Will the pinstripe come out fighting, will the flashy tie make its appearance, or are we to accept that times have moved on? 

During lockdown no one bothered with smartness. Every day, my screen was filled with people I had remembered as being well turned-out, now clad in a variety of psychedelic or somewhat battered clothing. Dodgy appearance seemed the order of the day – and nobody seemed to care. So relieved were most businesses that they were able to function remotely at all, that the seemingly frivolous subject of appearance was consigned to the footnotes of the staff memo on ‘wfh’ guidelines. 

Now we are faced with hybrid working, where some of our co-workers/colleagues/workplace sparring partners are on duty sitting at home, while others do shifts back at their office desks. Anecdotal evidence suggests that those putting in a physical appearance make some greater effort with smartness compared to the home-workers. As a result, hybrid meetings offer an eclectic mix of styles, as some vestiges of yesterday’s traditions mingle with cutting-edge dress-down. Does it matter, and should we even care in this time of great economic and political drama? Maybe not. 

With greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion, perhaps it would be good to ditch the distinctiveness of old-style office attire and embrace the techy start-up vibe of informality. Coming as this does with less office and more remote working, business leaders seem themselves at a loss over what to do. Suit up or go business-casual (whatever that might actually mean)? Go back to the office, or spend time with the cat? 

Perhaps one prominent casualty of this shift has been the tie. A few years ago, I commented on LinkedIn on the slow death of this strip of cloth knotted around the neck. Even very senior male bankers today will appear at events with open necks, though this might not point to an any less formal style of management. 

The boring sameness of the male suit and tie nevertheless had the benefit of taking away any pre-breakfast decisions on what to wear, leaving the way clear to focus on deciding the type of coffee. Indeed, as greater numbers of women climb to senior positions, they are also helping to set new standards of appearance, distinct from and generally smarter than men. 

Today, as I am now mostly back in the office, I face the dilemma of how to style myself. The suit is such an easy, retro default setting and a comfort-zone choice. The tie has long been my splash of colour or daily mood statement. I cling to both like relics from an earlier era, realising that maybe that description applies to me also! 

Still, as a senior manager I do wonder where to draw the line over appearance and dress. No doubt there might be more academic studies on the impact of wearing a suit (or other uniform) on state of mind and professional attitude, but it seems there is little to guide us on what smartness at work should look like in the post-Covid world. 

So, what suits the modern era of office/wfh life? In my case I will probably default uneasily to the old ways, giving in to being simply old-fashioned. Nevertheless, although there is still seemingly a consensus that a suit and tie are smart, their future appears to be unravelling. Students of English from a certain era, having learnt the expression, “My tailor is rich”, will now have to learn the modern equivalent: “My tailor was once rich, but has now gone bust”. Anyone lend me an sustainably-sourced T-shirt?

Brought to you by Herts Tailors, who visit Tim and many other City professionals in their homes and offices. Visit www.hertstailors.com or call 07540 123312

Herts Tailors

From business to wedding suits, shirts, overcoats and jeans, for both men and women – our aim is to make sure you are suitably dressed for any occasion. We bring the finest traditions from the British and the irresistible style of the Italians. We are not a fashion brand, we make clothes the way our clients like them. We will come to your home or office at a time that works for you. Alternatively, you can come to our offices in Hertfordshire, or we can arrange a mutually convenient location. Visit www.hertstailors.com
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